The Not-So-Sweet Facts About Soda

November 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Nutrition

Experts say drinking the sugary beverage can lead to insulin resistance, oxidative stress and inflammation.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugar in American diets, and it’s no surprise that soda sales in this country are huge. According to an industry report, 8.9 billion cases of the sugary drink were sold last year. Is it any wonder that more than 78 million American adults are obese? In 2013, the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that 25,000 obesity-related American deaths from diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer were linked to sugar-sweetened drinks. And the latest research is just as bleak.

A study published in October in the American Journal of Public Health discovered that a soda a day can age you as many as 4.6 additional years. After analyzing the data and DNA taken from 5,309 participants of an ongoing health survey between 1999 and 2002, researchers found that those who drank a daily soda had shorter telomeres than those who drank less.

Telomeres, the protective structures that cap the ends of chromosomes, sense danger in the cellular environment, says Elissa Epel, senior study author and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California–San Francisco School of Medicine. “Short telomeres predict earlier onset and worse prognosis of many diseases of aging,” she says. “Aging and biochemical stressors can shorten or damage telomeres. In some studies, they also predict earlier mortality.”

Drinking 8 ounces or 1 cup of soda a day was significantly associated with shorter telomeres, the researchers found, and the association was proportionately larger for the daily intake of 20 ounces or one bottle of soda. “Consuming sugary sodas leads to a rapid intake of calories and sugars and subsequent insulin response,” says study author Cindy Leung, a postdoctoral scholar at UCSF’s School of Medicine. “This results in several biochemical changes, such as insulin resistance, oxidative stress and inflammation. All of these processes are known to influence the shortening of telomeres, as well as increase the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

The study examined the consumption of other sugary drinks as well – non-carbonated sports and energy drinks and 100 percent fruit juices. “The only negative association we found,” Leung says, “was between drinking sugary sodas and telomere length, which we attribute to the high sugar content.”

Soda consumption can also have a profound effect at the neurological level. A study published online in September in the journal Hippocampus found that adolescent rats given sweetened solutions containing sugar or high-fructose corn syrup in concentrations common in sodas suffered from memory impairment and swelling in the hippocampus of the brain, which manages memory formation. They also became prediabetic.

The rats were placed in mazes that tested their spatial memory. Adolescent rats that consumed the sugary solutions performed the worst among all the test groups, leading the study authors to believe that the inflammation of the brain may have had an effect. That’s unsettling news when one considers that children ages 2 to 19 annually consume 7 trillion calories from sugar-sweetened beverages alone, according to research from the Harvard School of Public Health.

So the news is not good. If you’re addicted to soda, what can you do? Danielle Capalino?, a registered dietitian practicing in New York, says, “it’s important to visualize what it means when a soda label says it has 65 grams of sugar in a 20-ounce drink. Every 4 grams of sugar is equivalent to about 1 teaspoon, which means there are about 16 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce drink. Drinking soda is drinking empty calories. It is sugar with no nutrients – no protein, no fiber, no vitamins.”

 

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