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Sugary Sodas Promote Aging... in Cells

Oct 17, 2014 02:45 PM EDT

Extra sugary sodas might promote disease, independently from its role in obesity, after researchers found in a new study that consumption of the sweetened beverages were associated with cell aging.

"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," senior author Elissa Epel, PhD, professor of psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), said in a statement.

The UCSF team demonstrated this finding in telomeres - the protective units of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells. In previous studies, short telomeres have been associated with the development of chronic diseases of aging, including heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Now, they have shown for the first time that sugary sodas can impact telomere length.

Researchers followed 5,309 participants, ages 20 to 65, for several weeks and observed their daily soda consumption, finding that a daily 20-ounce soda was associated with 4.6 years of additional biological aging. This effect on telomere length, in comparison, is equivalent to the negative effects of smoking.

Not to mention that 21 percent of participants reported drinking at least 20 ounces of sugar-sweetened soda a day, whereas the average was only 12 ounces.

"It is critical to understand both dietary factors that may shorten telomeres, as well as dietary factors that may lengthen telomeres," added UCSF postdoctoral fellow Cindy Leung, the study's lead author. "Here it appeared that the only beverage consumption that had a measurable negative association with telomere length was consumption of sugared soda."

Leung and her colleagues note that they only compared telomere length and sugar-sweetened soda consumption for each participant at a single time point, and so the study does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

However, it offers a different perspective on these tempting sweetened drinks, which are most notably associated with diabetes and obesity alone.

The findings were reported in the American Journal of Public Health.

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