Sugar speeds up the aging process as much as smoking, according to research conducted at the University of California at San Francisco. The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, surveyed data on over 5,300 healthy Americans from a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
The researchers found a link between soda consumption and the length of white blood cells’ telomeres, a part of chromosomes associated with aging. Those who drank a lot of sugary soda had shorter telemeres, decreasing cells’ life cycle. The length of telomeres has previously been associated with human lifespan. Short telomeres also have been associated with the development of chronic diseases of aging, including heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.
“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 Elissa Epel, professor of psychiatry at UCSF and senior author of the study.
“This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness,” Epel said. The finding held regardless of age, race and income and education level.
In fact, the only beverage consumption that had a measurable negative association with telomere length was sugar-added soda — diet sodas did not show the effect, and neither did sweetened fruit juice.
The authors cautioned, however, that an association does not demonstrate causation. Epel is co-leading a new study, which we imagine involves a lot of soda guzzling, in which participants will be tracked for weeks in real time to look for effects of sugar-sweetened soda consumption on aspects of cellular aging.
Maybe we should call them “soda lines” instead of “smile lines.”