Since time immemorial, people have been trying to find the proverbial fountain of youth. The pursuit for an ageless appearance along with a longer, healthier life remains a major goal for countless people today.
While anti-aging creams and devices, supplements that promise greater longevity, 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 indicates there’s one drink that can age you faster, and cutting it from your diet may help stop your premature aging in its tracks.
When it comes to aging, there’s no drink worse than sugar-sweetened soda. Drinking soda on a consistent basis has been known to lead to an increase in the risk of weight gain and certain diseases, and research shows that it can even affect your body on a cellular level. All of these components contribute to unhealthier, more rapid aging.
“Consuming sugar-sweetened beverages on a regular basis can ultimately put you at risk for a variety of diseases like obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and more,” says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook and member of our Expert Medical Board. “Because our risk for these diseases automatically increases as we age, adding excessive sugar to the aging equation does not help.”
Read on to learn more about how soda can affect your aging process, then check out the Eating Habits To Avoid if You’re Over 50.
Soda can increase your risk for disease
One of the main ways consistent soda consumption can speed up your aging process is by increasing your 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, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was associated with type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, regardless of whether or not a person was also obese. One smaller cohort study done with female teachers in California found that consuming one or more servings of sugar-sweetened beverages per day was associated with cardiovascular disease and stroke risk after a 25-year follow-up.
Soda can increase your risk for disease, but it can also negatively affect your body’s cells, too.
Soda can impact your body on a cellular level
According to a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, sugary drinks can cause premature aging on a cellular level.
To conduct their study, researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) examined data from 5,309 U.S. adults between ages 20 and 65 with no history of cardiovascular disease, whose information was compiled as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 1999 to 2002.
What the researchers found was that individuals who drank more sugar-sweetened drinks had shorter telomeres—sections of DNA at the end of chromosomes—within their white blood cells. Shortened telomeres in white blood cells have been linked to reduced longevity and an increased risk of chronic disease.
“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,” explained the study’s senior author Elissa Epel, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at UCSF, in a statement.
“This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness,” added Epel. “This finding held regardless of age, race, income, and education level. Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset.” Epel added that, while the study was conducted exclusively on adults, this may hold true for children, too.
While the study’s researchers were quick to point out that this finding is an association, not definitive causation, the long-term effects are quite pronounced. “For a daily consumption of the current standard 20-ounce serving size for sugar-sweetened sodas, this corresponds to 4.6 additional years of aging,” the study found, an amount of telomere shortening similar to that associated with smoking cigarettes.
Soda can mess with your gut, too
A 2021 review published in Current Nutrition Reports found that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, was associated with changes to gut bacteria and the intestinal microbiota, inflammation, and oxidative stress, all of which are linked to premature aging. That study’s authors had a simple recommendation to help mitigate these effects: replace soda with a healthier drink choice whenever you can.
So, the next time you have a craving for something bubbly, maybe consider a seltzer with lemon instead—your body will thank you.
A previous version of this story was published in November 2021 and has since been updated.