A recent study by prolific telomere researcher Elisa Epel and colleagues showed that sugared sodas might accelerate aging.
Now this may seem like a moot point since most people believe that sugar consumption is unhealthy at least in the form of sugary foods.
The picture gets muddier however when you consider the results I reviewed in my last blog on artificial sweeteners (specifically saccharin). That study showed that sugar levels and insulin levels were affected by consumption of artificial sweeteners in a dose that was at a high level but still considered safe. The mechanism for purported ill effects of saccharin was a change in the gut flora which resulted in more calories from food becoming available even though the actual amount of food was unchanged. Think of it as more efficient processing!
Incidentally that study did NOT show that consumption of refined sugar in the form of glucose did anything to blood sugar or insulin levels- at least not over the 12 weeks it spanned.
The current study was far less sophisticated but much more impactful in its end point and aging. Epel’s study used telomere length as an isolated end point. Over 5000 people were tested unlike the artificial sweetener study which tested a whopping 7 people. Dr Epel’s study showed that regular consumption of sugared sodas at a level of 20 ounces per day was associated with 4.6 years of aging by telomere length.
Dr Epel’s study is fraught with flaws however. First the samples they used have been frozen for close to a decade if not more. Next they used QPCR the least accurate measurement for testing telomere length. The large number of study participants would help fix that problem except that QPCR is subject to DNA quality issues more than any other method and using 10 year old samples is in my opinion asking for trouble.
Ultimately you might ask what this study actually showed. I sure did. The honest answer is “not as much as it could have!”. A better study would have been to use the HTQFISH Life Length assay and follow the participants over a year or so. That will not happen because one of the researchers listed has stock in a company that runs QPCR only.
So do we throw this out? Not totally!
It is typical of the low quality studies that are continuing in ever increasing number to be released by people associated with the scientists who discovered telomerase. It is a sad fact that “publish or perish” is the mantra of many academic scientists who are associated with all scientific fields. This study is not junk in my opinion but it does a poor job of showing what the authors appear to have set out to do, and plays to a pre existing bias: sugar is bad for you.
That pre-existing bias is not without a ton of science already as diabetes and insulin resistance are both associated with shorter telomere length in humans as well as cellular dysfunction and impaired tissue repair along with you guessed it inflammation and increased free radical damage.
And honestly I agree with that bias or I would not be on an extremely low carb ketogenic diet.
And another interesting thing emerged from the Epel Study. Non soda sugared beverages were not associated with shorter telomeres. Nor it seems was 100% fruit juice. Did anyone check soda water?
The saccharin study did NOT show increased blood sugar or insulin with the consumption of sugar! Go figure!!!
So we are left with more questions than answers from this study. The premise that sugar is bad for your telomeres is already pretty well established. Its just that this study is not scientifically grounded enough to add to what we already know.
The good news is that the authors are going to do a study that measures more than one telomere length and looks at what happens to telomere length real time with respect to sugared soda. If the study is large enough to get around the inaccuracies of the measurement they have chosen we might just have a real answer and a valuable study.
Frankly the real shocker will be if sugared sodas DO NOT shorten telomeres.
But hopefully the end point of shorter telomeres and faster aging may steer people away from sugared sodas. I was shocked to find that up to a quarter of Americans still consume 20+ ounces of sugared sodas a day.
Now while I am not in love with this study for all the reasons I mentioned I do think it should make us all look at our sugar consumption with a very serious eye!
Canned soda appears to be a candidate for “Aging in a Can” especially if Epel’s follow up study gets done.
I also want to remind you that carbs in general are processed into sugars in the body and no matter what people try to tell/sell you about “impact” levels of carbs, it is very easy to get far more carbs than I view as healthy in the daily diet. If you can pinch an inch around your waist, you are getting too many carbs, plain and simple!
And if you can pinch an inch you are probably aging your telomeres faster than you should. Fix your diet and consider telomerase activation to give your body a fighting chance to recover what it has lost. Be wary of products that make big telomere claims but don’t back them up with evidence.
I have personally gained over 1000 base pairs and the equivalent of de aging by 10 years biologically using 4 TA-65 a day. I am in my 5th year and will not stop in the foreseeable future.
Why would I if I am getting younger as the years go by!
Stay young Stay healthy and Stay away from sugar!
In the blog on artificial sweeteners and your health I mentioned I am still convinced that sugar is a much bigger problem for human health than artificial sweeteners. Now you know why.