A study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco reveals that consuming soda can — independently of the role it plays in obesity — cause premature death.
In an article published in the American Journal of Public Health, Cindy Leung and Elissa Epel demonstrate that individuals who consume more soda have shorter telomeres in their white bloods cells. Telomeres are units of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes in cells, and shorter telomeres in white blood cells have been associated with age-related diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
“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,” Epel said. “This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness.”
“This finding held regardless of age, race, income and education level,” she continued. “Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset. Further, although we only studied adults here, it is possible that soda consumption is associated with telomere shortening in children, as well.”
Given how previous studies have correlated telomere shortening with chronological age, Epel and Leung estimate that the consumption of one 20-ounce soda daily can be associated with 4.6 years of additional aging. The effect, then, is similar to that of smoking — as well as offsetting the benefits of regular exercise.
“It is critical to understand both dietary factors that may shorten telomeres, as well as dietary factors that may lengthen telomeres,” Leung said. “Here it appeared that the only beverage consumption that had a measurable negative association with telomere length was consumption of sugared soda.”