Soda Consumption
A new study suggests soda can lead to accelerated cell aging. Reuters

Sugary drinks have been the focus of many public health policies, so we all know that soda and sugary drinks are bad for you. But a new study quantifies their effect on lifespan. While noting the need for additional studies, researchers from the University of California San Francisco determined that daily sugary drink consumption could shorten your life by 4.6 years.

It's All About The Length Of Your Telomere

As the UCSF researchers explain, telomere length is an important indicator of an adult's health and lifespan. Telomeres are the "protective caps" at the end of chromosomes, and as they shorten, it leads to the aging of the cell and, ultimately, cell death. In order to keep living, it's important that telomere length remains as long as possible and the length can be affected by diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices. Previous research has linked short telomeres with cancer, aging, heart disease and diabetes. If any behavior is shown to shorten telomere length, it may not directly lead to a shortened lifespan or a chronic disease development, but it could lead to an increased risk and may be a lifestyle choice that needs to be changed.

Soda And Smoking

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, evaluated the length of telomeres in white blood cells in a nationally representative sample of 5,309 healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 65. The participants had no history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes and the researchers looked at the effect of diet soda, non-carbonated sugar-sweetened beverages, SSBs, fruit juice and soda on telomere length. On average, participants consumed 12 ounces of soda while 21 percent reported daily consumption of 20 ounces, the researchers noted.

There was no association between diet soda and non-carbonated SSBs with telomere length. Sugar-sweetened soda consumption was associated with shorter telomere length while fruit juice was marginally associated with longer telomere length. "Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence metabolic disease development through accelerated cell aging," the researchers concluded.

The effect of the daily consumption of 20 ounces of soda on telomere length was equal to 4.6 years of aging, which was "comparable to the effect of smoking." Soda has already been linked to increasing risks of type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and gout in women, and is a contributing factor to obesity.

What's Next?

While that conclusion seems damning, there is plenty of research yet to be done to determine if soda actually caused the shortening of telomere length. Elissa Epel, the senior author of the study, is conducting a new study that will track participants for weeks to determine the effects of SSBs on telomere length. The researchers measured only one point in time for this study.

"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," Epel said in a statement.