A new study finds that daily consumption of half a litre of sugared soda is linked with 4.6 years of additional biological aging, effects that are comparable to that of smoking. The research found that sugary drinks are associated with cell aging, suggesting sugar-sweetened soda consumption may promote disease independently from its role in obesity.

The study revealed that telomeres, the protective units of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells, were shorter in the white blood cells of people who reported drinking more soda. “Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence disease development, not only by straining the body’s metabolic control of sugars, but also through accelerated cellular aging of tissues,” said senior study author Elissa Epel, professor of psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

The length of telomeres within white blood cells has previously been associated with human lifespan. “This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness,” Epel added. This effect on telomere length is comparable to the effect of smoking or regular exercise in the opposite, anti-aging direction, according to lead author of the study Cindy Leung, postdoctoral fellow at UCSF.

Short telomeres have also been associated with the development of chronic diseases of aging, including heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. The researchers measured telomeres after obtaining DNA from 5,309 participants, ages 20 to 65, with no history of diabetes or cardiovascular disease. The same individuals had participated in a health survey during the years 1999 through 2002. The findings appeared online in the American Journal of Public Health.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2014.

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