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article imageStudy: Drinking sugar-sweetened sodas could make you age faster

By JohnThomas Didymus     Oct 21, 2014 in Health
San Francisco - A new research study has found that people who reported regular daily consumption of 20 ounces of sugar-sweetened soda have an increased rate of DNA ageing and that the ageing effect of consuming sugary sodas was comparable to the effect of smoking.
If confirmed by subsequent studies, the result of the new study could lead to renewed drive to enact legislation, such as taxes, to discourage consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas.
This is not the first time that research has found that consuming sugar-sweetened sodas, such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, could harm health. Previous studies have linked sugary sodas with obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancers and heart diseases. However, this is the first study implicating sugary sodas in accelerated cell ageing.
The study, published Oct. 16, 2014, in the American Journal of Public Health, looked at data from 5,309 healthy adult people aged 20 to 65, and found that those who consumed about 20 ounces of sugary soda drinks a day showed evidence of increased cell aging, indicated by telomere shortening.
The telomere shortening associated with drinking 20 ounces of soda daily was estimated as being equivalent to about 4.6 additional years of biological ageing. The study also found that drinking a little less than half of 20 ounces daily was associated with telomere shortening equivalent to 1.9 years of additional ageing.
The researchers estimated that 4.6 years of ageing due to consumption of sodas was equivalent to the effect of smoking, or the lifespan lengthening effect of regular exercise.
Large drinks banned in NYC
Large drinks banned in NYC
7 Eleven
Specifically, the study looked at the DNA obtained from the white blood cells of healthy adults who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted 1999-2002, and found that the telomeres were "significantly" shorter in people who reported regularly drinking 20 ounces of sugary sodas a day compared with those who consumed much less.
Telomeres are the sections of DNA at the end of chromosomes. They help to protect DNA information from being lost during cell division. However, the length of the section of DNA representing the telomeres gets shortened with age, meaning that as the cell ages the non-telomeric sections of DNA become increasingly exposed to risk of degenerative changes. That is why shortening of the telomeres has been linked with decreased lifespan and diseases of ageing, such as Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Previous studies have also found that lifestyle factors, such as smoking and mental stress, could shorten the telomeres, leading to reduced life span.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that the average consumption for the nationally representative sample was 12 ounces a day and that 21 percent reported consuming at least 20 ounces a day.
According to Elissa Epel, senior author in the study and professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, "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 ageing of tissues. This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness. This finding held regardless of age, race, income and education level. Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset."
A variety of soda drinks
Various soda pop
Photo by poolie
Although, the study collected data from adults, ages 20 to 65, questions are now being asked whether sodas also shorten the telomeres of children. Questions are also being asked about the extent to which widespread consumption of sodas has contributed to early onset degenerative diseases over the years.
Epel said: "Although we only studied adults here, it is possible that soda consumption is associated with telomere shortening in children, as well."
However, the researchers emphasized that a correlation between telomere shortening and consumption of sugary sodas does not prove that sodas directly caused the shortening and ageing. But some scientists have proposed ways that sugar could cause cell ageing. It is suggested that the rush of sugar into the system when soda is consumed leads to oxidative stress and inflammatory reaction that damages tissues. According to Epel, such oxidative stress is the "perfect storm for degrading telomeres."
Cindy Leung at the UCSF Center for Health and Community, who participated in the study, said, "It is critical to understand both dietary factors that may shorten telomeres, as well as dietary factors that may lengthen telomeres. Here it appeared that the only beverage consumption that had a measurable negative association with telomere length was consumption of sugared soda."
Fructose drinks on shelves in a Woolworth s supermarket  Australia.
Fructose drinks on shelves in a Woolworth's supermarket, Australia.
SMC / Wikipedia
But the researchers noted some limitations of the study, which included the fact that it was based on data collected in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted over 10 years ago. The study, therefore, presented only a snapshot of dynamic changes as indicated by dietary self-report at the time of the survey.
To address this limitation Epel said her team plans to conduct a weeks-long study to see whether they could induce telomere shortening using a high sugar diet.
David Jacobs, professor of public health and epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, said, "It’s an interesting suggestion that, by taking these beverages that so emphasize a single molecule, there’s a fundamental relationship between excess sugar in the diet and telomeres. But disease is long-term, and these are small effects. You’re going to need long-term studies with follow-up to really see what happens."
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