Could Your Pepsi Shorten Your Life as Much as Smoking?

Monday Dec 1 | BY |
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If you’re regularly drinking soda, you could actually be shortening your life.

You already know that sodas aren’t good for you.

But a recent study just made them sound a little more dangerous than we thought.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, recently reported that regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages could actually accelerate cell aging.

How is this possible? Does it mean that cutting back on soda could actually extend your life?

Study Finds Soda Shortens Telomeres

For the study, researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. They looked at just over 5,300 adults, aged 20 to 65 years, who had no history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes. They then examined their dietary intake of soda pop, diet soda, and fruit juice, and compared it with “telomere length.”

Shelli Stein wrote about telomeres in a previous post, but in case you missed it, here’s a quick refresher. Telomeres are like little tails on the end of chromosomes that help protect them from fraying and sticking to each other. When a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. Over time, they can become so short that the cell becomes inactive.

Scientists have determined that shorter telomeres are a sign of aging. Research from the University of Utah discovered that “shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lives. Among people older than 60, those with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease.”

Results from the California study found that consumption of soda was associated with shorter telomeres—leading them to conclude that sodas could influence disease development through cell aging.

“Having shortened telomeres is a strong predictor of developing chronic diseases earlier in life,” study co-author Dr. Elissa Epel told the Huffington Post.

How much does soda affect these telomeres? That answer was surprising—and extremely concerning.

More specifically, the results of the study showed:

  • People who reported having an eight-ounce daily serving of soda had a biological age that was nearly two years older than those who didn’t drink soda.
  • Those who drank a 20-ounce soda every day had a biological age that was about four-and-a-half times older than those who didn’t drink soda.
  • The previous results (for the 20-ounce soda) showed the same association as that found between smoking and telomere length.
  • The results connected only sugar-sweetened sodas and telomere length. The researchers found no association between telomere length and diet soda or fruit juice intake.

“The extremely high dose of sugar that we put into our body within seconds by drinking sugared beverages is uniquely toxic to metabolism,” said Epel.

Thoughts on the Study

This study doesn’t prove that drinking soda causes telomeres to shorten. It only shows an association between the two, which could mean many things. Those who regularly drink soda could have other habits that cause accelerated aging, for example. Epel is involved in a new study examining real-time effects of drinking soda on cellular aging.

The fact that no association was found between fruit juices and diet sodas also doesn’t mean that these beverages don’t affect cellular aging. Researchers speculated that 14 years ago, when the data was gathered, people were drinking mostly soda and less fruit juice. Data gathered today may show different results.

Still the results raise a red flag. We already know that sodas can contribute to weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and the wearing of tooth enamel, with links to cancer (for caramel colored sodas), bone weakness, and more. And this isn’t the first study to associate soda with aging. A 2010 study in The FASEB Journal reported that too much phosphate (most sodas contain phosphoric acid) caused animals in the study to show premature aging-like features, and to die five weeks earlier than those who had normal phosphate levels.

4 Ways to Lengthen Telomeres

You may have already cut back on sodas, but maybe you just can’t resist on special occasions (at the movies, out with friends). In that case, there are things you to can do protect your telomeres—and even lengthen them!

A 2013 study, for instance, showed that the following four lifestyle changes resulted in telomeres that were 10 percent longer than they were prior to the changes. Those who adopted the changes also slowed the growth of cancerous tumors.

  1. Eat a healthy diet: In the study, participants followed a plant-based diet high in fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains, and low in fat and refined carbohydrates.
  2. Exercise regularly: Participants walked 30 minutes a day for six days a week.
  3. Reduce stress: Participants engaged in meditation, deep breathing, and yoga-based stretching.
  4. Get social support: Participants worked with a weekly support group. Regular time out with friends and loved ones can have the same supportive effect.

What do you think of these studies? Will they affect your soda consumption (if you drink any)?

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Cindy W. 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, June 21, 2014,

“Are Telomeres the Key to Aging and Cancer?” University of Utah Health Sciences, Genetic Science Learning Center,

Mandy Oaklander, “Soda May Age you as Much as Smoking, Study Says,” Time, October 17, 2014,

Mutsuko Ohnishi, M. Shawkat Razzaque, “Dietary and genetic evidence for phosphate toxicity acceleration mammalian aging,” The FASEB Journal, April 23, 2010,

Jeffrey Norris, “Sugared Soda Consumption, Cell Aging Associated in New Study,” University of California, San Francisco, October 16, 2014,

Elizabeth Fernandez, “Lifestyle Changes May Lengthen Telomeres, a Measure of Cell Aging,” University of California, San Francisco, September 16, 2013,

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.

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