Want to age faster? I’m guessing that your answer, of course, is no. But that’s exactly what you might be doing when you drink soda. If the thought of obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular disease isn’t enough to make you think twice before picking up a can or bottle of some sugary brew, a new study reports that drinking soda may make our cells age faster. Looking at telomere length in more than 5,000 healthy U.S. adults between the ages of 20 and 65 years old, researchers found telomere length to be shorter in subjects who sipped on sugar sweetened soda.
What Are Telomeres?
Telomeres are a widely viewed as a marker of biological aging. Much as the plastic tip on a shoelace protects the lace from fraying, telomeres act as a protective DNA “cap” on the end of our chromosomes, protecting our genetic data so that our cells can continue to divide in a healthy way. Shorter telomere length is associated with chronic conditions such as insulin resistance, inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. In this study, researchers reported that drinking an 8-ounce serving daily for three years led to the equivalent of additional 1.9 years of aging in telomere length. Drinking at least 20 ounces of soda a day was associated with an additional 4.6 years of aging. These results held even after taking age, race, income and education level in to account as possible causes.
With more than half of all Americans over age two consuming sugary beverages daily, we need a dramatic shift in how we think about soda. For comparison, the researchers found that smoking also added 4.6 years to your telomere age. While soda companies have shifted their marketing to be focused on “fun” rather than health, their glossy ads and catchy commercials filled with beautiful, thin and otherwise-healthy-looking people guzzling soda stand in stark contrast to the reality. Drinking soda damages your health.
Want to age slower? Skip the soda altogether. Opt for a sparkling club soda with a squirt of fresh lemon or lime or a small splash of 100% juice. And remember that while soda (like smoking) may shorten telomeres, physical exercise has been shown to protect and maintain telomere length. Exercise is the other key. The researchers found that regular, vigorous activity made you 4.4 years younger.