A recent study has purportedly linked sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption to accelerated cell aging, estimating that “daily consumption of a 20-ounce soda was associated with 4.6 years of additional biological aging.” Cindy Leung, et al., “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, October 2014. University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) researchers apparently analyzed stored DNA from more than 5,000 adults enrolled in the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which included 24-hour dietary recall assessments.

According to a UCSF press release, the study authors reported that “telomeres— the protective units of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells—were shorter in the white blood cells of survey participants who reported drinking more soda.” Although this effect paralleled the telomere shortening allegedly seen in smokers, the consumption of 100 percent fruit juice “was moderately associated with longer telomeres.”

“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,” one of the authors was quoted as saying. “This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness… 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.” See UCSF Press Release, October 16, 2014.