Telomeres are protective units of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells. Telomere length has been associated with certain disease conditions where short telomeres have been associated with the development of chronic diseases of aging, including heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
The study consisted of measuring telomeres after obtaining stored DNA from 5,309 participants, ages 20 to 65, with no history of diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
“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, PhD, 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. “This finding held regardless of age, race, income and education level. Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset. Further, although we only studied adults here, it is possible that soda consumption is associated with telomere shortening in children, as well.”
Telomere shortening, through environmental stressors, has been associated with oxidative damage to tissue, to inflammation, and to insulin resistance. The University of California researchers calculated that daily consumption of a 20-ounce soda was associated with 4.6 years of additional biological aging.
“It is critical to understand both dietary factors that may shorten telomeres, as well as dietary factors that may lengthen telomeres,” Cindy Leung, senior co-researcher, said. “Here it appeared that the only beverage consumption that had a measurable negative association with telomere length was consumption of sugared soda.”
Cindy W. Leung, Barbara A. Laraia, Belinda L. Needham, David H. Rehkopf, Nancy E. Adler, Jue Lin, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Elissa S. Epel. Soda and Cell Aging: Associations Between Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and Leukocyte Telomere Length in Healthy Adults From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. American Journal of Public Health, 2014; e1 DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302151