What You Need to Know: Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages may make certain cells in your body age faster, a new study suggests.
Background: Researchers studied white blood cells in healthy adults, specifically looking at the ends of the study participants’ chromosomes, called telomeres. These telomeres are essential to cell division and naturally get shorter with the passage of time. When a telomere gets too short, its cell dies. Thus, scientists believe longer telomeres mean you’re healthier and younger, while shorter telomeres mean you’re less healthy and aging faster.
The Evidence: University of California, San Francisco researchers looked at data from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which included information on participants’ sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, as well as diet soda and fruit juice consumption. Controlling for obesity, they found that sugar-sweetened soda consumption was associated with shorter telomeres, but there was no link between telomere length and diet soda. Meanwhile, consumption of 100% fruit juice was associated with slightly longer telomeres. Exercise can also slow telomere shortening. Aim for 150 minutes per week; For example, 30 minutes of a brisk walk for five times per week.
About one in five adults in the study admitted to drinking a 20-ounce soda each day. This daily consumption could equal 4.6 years of extra aging, according to the study.
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Reference: Published online ahead of print October 16, 2014: e1–e7. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302151)