SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Soda has already been demonized by health officials for its role in encouraging obesity. But a new study suggests consumption of the sugary drinks may promote disease rates independent of obesity-related health problems. The reason: sugar-sweetened soft drinks encourage cells to age faster and replicate less.
The study looked at the DNA of soda drinkers and found a strong connection between soda and cell aging. Specifically, the more sugary beverages a study participant reported drinking, the shorter the telomeres. Telomeres are the protective ends of chromosomes that protect strands of DNA and promote cell replication. The shorter the end cap, the less the cell is able to reproduce.
"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," researcher Elissa Epel, a professor of psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco, warned in a recent press release.
"It is critical to understand both dietary factors that may shorten telomeres, as well as dietary factors that may lengthen telomeres," explained lead study author Cindy Leung, a researcher the university's Center for Health and Community. "Here it appeared that the only beverage consumption that had a measurable negative association with telomere length was consumption of sugared soda."
Already linked with problems like obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, sodas are quickly becoming enemy number one of public health officials -- inspiring almost as much condemnation as cigarettes and trans fats.
The study -- which relied on DNA samples from over 5,000 collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey -- was published last week in the journal American Journal of Public Health.