Drinking sugary soft drinks may accelerate biological ageing as much as smoking, a study has found.
The findings, from an analysis of thousands of DNA samples, suggested that sweet fizzy drinks had worse effects on health than merely promoting obesity.
They may actually speed up the rate at which cells age — although scientists could not confirm that the effect was causal.
The study focused on telomeres, protective caps on the ends of the chromosomes that provide a measure of biological ageing.
Telomeres shorten with age, and short telomeres are associated with chronic problems of ageing such as heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
People who regularly drank fizzy drinks had significantly shorter telomeres than those who did not.
Professor Elissa Epel, a member of the US team from the University of California at San Francisco said: “Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence disease development, not only by straining the body’s meta- bolic 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. Further, although we only studied adults here, it is possible that soda consumption is associated with telomere shortening in children, as well.”
The scientists measured telomeres in the white blood cells of 5,309 people aged 20 to 65 with no history of diabetes or heart disease. Consumption of 20 fluid ounces of a fizzy drink a day — about two cans of cola — was associated with 4.6 years of additional biological ageing, based on telomere shortening — similar to that of smoking.
The findings appear in the American Journal of Public Health. Co-author Dr Cindy Leung 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.”
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