Drinking Soda Can Age You As Much As Smoking

Illustrated by Clay Hickson.
We know that sugary soda causes some dietary damage (12,000 steps' worth, to be precise). But, new research suggests that regularly drinking soda could be unhealthy in a less-obvious way: by making our cells age more quickly.
For the study, published online in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers at UCSF looked at the effects of sugary sodas, diet sodas, and fruit juices on the length of over 5,000 participants' telomeres. Telomeres are the proteins that cap off the ends of chromosomes, and they naturally get shorter as we age. So, scientists are able to use telomere length as a marker of the aging process on a cellular level.
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The researchers found that those who were regular soda consumers had significantly shorter telomeres. Specifically, their results showed that regularly drinking an eight-ounce serving of sugar-sweetened soda was associated with telomeres aging roughly 1.9 additional years. And, telomeres in people who often drank the standard serving size (20 ounces) of soda were aged at the same accelerated rate (an additional 4.6 years) as cigarette smokers' telomeres. This persisted across all races, ages, and income levels. But, neither diet sodas nor juices produced the same effect.
While this research doesn't show that drinking sugary stuff actually causes telomeres to shorten, the fact that the researchers used data from a large, nationally-representative sample does lend their claims some strength. And, shorter telomeres have been linked to the development of diseases such as cancer. Also, past research has linked faster or slower telomere shortening to psychological stress and better lifestyle habits, respectively. Consider this aging business just one of many reasons to kick the sippin' habit — even in the post-Bloomberg era.
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