Since time immemorial, people have been trying to find the proverbial fountain of youth. The pursuit of an ageless look along with a longer, healthier life remains a major goal for countless people today.
While anti-aging creams and devices, supplements that promise longer life and diets that claim to turn back the clock may help you feel younger, there may also be an easier way to slow down the aging process. Research shows there’s one drink that can age you faster, and cutting it out of your diet can help stop premature aging.
When it comes to aging, there is no worse drink than sugary soda. Drinking soda on a consistent basis is known to lead to an increased risk of weight gain and certain diseases, and research shows that it can even affect your body on a cellular level. All of these ingredients contribute to unhealthier, faster aging.
“Drinking sugary drinks on a regular basis can ultimately put you at risk for various diseases such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and more,” he says. Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook and member of our Expert Medical Board. “Because the risk for these diseases automatically increases as we age, adding too much sugar to the aging equation doesn’t help.”
Read on to learn more about how soda can affect your aging process, then check out Diet Habits to Avoid If You’re Over 50.
Soda can increase your risk for disease
One of the main ways that consistent soda consumption can accelerate the aging process is by increasing the risk of diseases in which aging is already a risk factor. As Goodson mentioned, this includes things like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
According to a 2019 report published in Nutrients, consumption of sugary drinks was associated with type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, regardless of whether a person was also obese or not. A smaller cohort study of female teachers in California found that drinking one or more servings of sugary soft drinks per day was associated with cardiovascular disease and stroke risk after 25 years of follow-up.
Soda can increase your risk for disease, but it can also negatively affect your body’s cells.
Soda can affect your body at the cellular level
According to a 2014 study published in American Journal of Public Healthsugary drinks can cause premature aging at the cellular level.
To conduct their study, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) examined data from 5,309 US adults between the ages of 20 and 65 without a history of cardiovascular disease, whose information was collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys by the 1999. to 2002.
What the researchers found was that people who drank more sugary drinks had shorter telomeres – segments of DNA at the end of chromosomes – in their white blood cells. Shortened telomeres in white blood cells have been linked to reduced longevity and increased risk of chronic disease.
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“Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages may affect disease development, not only by impairing the body’s metabolic control of sugars but also through accelerated cellular tissue aging,” explained the study’s senior author. Elissa Epel, PhD, professor of psychiatry at UCSF, in a statement.
“This is the first evidence that soda is associated with telomere stiffness,” Epel added. “This finding holds regardless of age, race, income, and education level. Telomere shortening begins long before disease onset.” Epel added that while the study was conducted exclusively on adults, this may also apply to children.
While the study’s researchers were quick to point out that this finding is a correlation rather than definitive causation, the long-term implications are quite stark. “For a daily consumption of the current standard 20oz serving size for sugary soft drinks, this equates to 4.6 additional years of aging,” the study found, an amount of telomere shortening similar to that associated with cigarette smoking.
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Soda can also mess up your gut
A 2021 review posted on Current Nutrition Reports found that consumption of sugary drinks such as soda was associated with changes in gut bacteria and gut microbiota, inflammation and oxidative stress, which are linked to premature aging. The authors of this study had a simple recommendation to mitigate these effects: replace soda with a healthier beverage choice whenever you can.
So the next time you’re craving something fizzy, maybe consider a lemon ale instead—your body will thank you.
An earlier version of this story was published in November 2021 and has since been updated.