The team collated data from the National Health and Examination Surveys, an annual program for assessing the health and nutrition of American adults and children. They gathered data from over 5,300 participants between 1999 and 2002, all of whom had no history of diabetes or cardiovascular disease. (Related: Studies funded by soda industry skew the link between soda and diabetes.)
In particular, they looked at stored DNA data from the participants – measuring telomere length and comparing it with their consumption of sugar-sweetened soda. The researchers found that those who regularly drank sugar-sweetened soda had shorter telomeres than those who didn't.
Research has shown that telomeres have been previously associated with lifespan. Having shorter telomere length, for instance, has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even certain types of cancer.
The team reported in their study that consuming even just eight ounces of soda every day can accelerate aging by nearly two years. Meanwhile, 20 ounces of soda can accelerate aging by up to 4.6 years when consumed daily. In fact, drinking sugar-sweetened soda can reduce telomere length at a rate similar to smoking.
The UCSF study is also the first to link regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soda to telomere shortening. According to study co-author Elissa Epel, drinking sugar-sweetened soda adds strain to the body by metabolizing these sugars and accelerates cellular aging in tissues.
"This finding held regardless of age, race, income and education level. Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset," Epel added. " Although we only studied adults here, it is possible that soda consumption is associated with telomere shortening in children, as well."
In another study, European experts revealed that drinking sugary sodas and other sweetened drinks increases the risk of all-cause deaths. The researchers collected data from more than 450,000 individuals enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, a large-scale cohort study for biochemical and genetic markers for cancer and other chronic diseases.
A follow-up revealed that more than 40,000 participants from the original study had already died. Using their data, the team found a strong link between regular soda consumption and all-cause mortality. Those who regularly drank more than two glasses of sugary drinks increased their risk of dying from circulatory diseases, while those who drank at least one glass of sugary drinks increased their risk of dying from digestive diseases and Parkinson's disease.
"Our results … provide additional support for the possible adverse health effects of sugar-sweetened soft drinks and to replace them with other healthier beverages, preferably water," explained co-author Neil Murphy. "For artificially-sweetened soft drinks, we now need a better understanding of the mechanisms that may underlie this association and research such as ours will hopefully stimulate these efforts."
The findings appeared in JAMA Internal Medicine.
FoodScience.news has more about the adverse health effects of sugary sodas.