Pop, soft drinks, and soda—names associated with sugary, sweetened beverages that do more harm than good. It’s long been suggested by various scientific studies that these fizzy drinks are associated with diabetes and obesity, but a new study conducted by Cindy Leung et al. in December 2014 at the University of California tells us that there’s another consequence of pop: it may hasten cell aging.
Cell aging happens when telomeres—caps that cover the end of DNA strands—get shorter. Simply put, a telomere acts like the plastic part of a shoelace, and cell aging is when the telomere starts breaking apart. The scientists found that those who regularly drank sugar-sweetened beverages, like Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Sprite put their body at risk of aging. The scientists looked at data from 1999 to 2002 that surveyed 5,300 healthy adults between the ages of 20 to 65 who had no history of diabetes or cardiovascular disease over three years. The researchers grouped participants by those who drank sugar-sweetened pop, diet drinks, fruit juices, and non-carbonated sugary drinks. In addition to the shortening of telomeres in general, the scientists also found that the amount the telomeres were shortened by was a similar length to that caused by smoking.
A shortened telomere affects different functions in the cell. One major consequence of shortened telomeres is an increased chance of getting cancer. Telomeres can also affect immunity. A shorter telomere in white blood cells—cells that fight off viruses and bacteria that make us sick—means a shorter lifespan. With a shorter lifespan of our bodies’ illness fighters, we’re prone to getting sicker faster and more often.
On the other hand, the study showed that participants who drank fruit juices had longer telomeres—meaning that telomeres degraded at a much slower rate—than those who drank pop. The researchers also saw that participants who drank diet and noncarbonated sugary drinks saw telomeres degrade at an average rate.
For those that still consume pop on a daily basis, doctors suggest slowly weaning off the cans or bottles to prevent further health complications. Some physicians believe that replacing a can of Sprite with some freshly squeezed fruit juice or smoothies has better health effects and can curb the sugary craving our brains might be telling us to indulge. Perhaps inspiration for (dare I say it) a new year’s resolution?