Soda is as Damaging to Your Cells as Cigarette Smoking

by Dr. Shannon Reive-Schmidt May 20, 2015

The next time you reach for a soda, consider the findings of a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health. In this study, researchers found that soda actually ages our cells as much as cigarette smoking. Wow, let’s write that again. Soda ages our cells as much as cigarette smoking.

Most of us are aware of the link between drinking soda and an increased risk of obesity and diabetes, but we don’t usually think of the sugary beverage as contributing to pre-mature aging.

The study revealed that telomeres, our DNA’s protective end caps, were significantly shorter in those who reported drinking more soda. Short telomeres are a marker for biological aging, and several scientific studies have shown a link between short telomere length and age-related diseases.

Researchers estimate that the daily consumption of a 20-ounce serving of soda is associated with 4.6 years of additional biological aging, comparable to the aging effects of smoking.

Sugary sodas are aging us on a cellular level, and may contribute to premature aging of our skin as well. The sugar in soda can bind to proteins in our blood and form advanced glycation end products (aptly referred to as “AGEs”).  AGEs can be damaging to the skin by stimulating enzymes to break up collagen, which can lead to wrinkles and sagging skin. The cellular damage attributable to soda has the potential to not only make us feel older, but look older as well.

So, how do we kick the soda habit for good?  Here are a few suggestions:

1. Make a plan:
Give yourself time to make the transition. You could be setting yourself up for failure if you stop cold turkey. Make a plan. Start by decreasing your two sodas a day habit to one a day, then down to one soda every other day, and so on.

2. Stock up on tasty alternatives:
Before cutting back on the soda, find a few drink alternatives that fulfill your soda cravings. If you like the bubbles, stock up on sparkling mineral water. If you crave the sweetness, simply add a splash of fruit juice or a few drops of liquid stevia to your mineral water. If you’re having a tough time cutting back on the caffeine, increase your intake of B vitamins, specifically Vit B12, to help boost your energy and decrease withdrawal symptoms. Or try some iced green tea to give yourself a bit of caffeine while getting the benefits of tea’s age-defying antioxidants.

3. Power in numbers:
Grab a friend, or two, and ask them to join you in kicking the (soda) can for good. There is power in numbers when it comes to breaking a habit. You are much more apt to stick to your plan if others are holding you accountable.

4. Establish new routines:
One of the best ways to drop a bad habit is to replace it with new, healthier, habits. Think of the times in your day that you tend to reach for a soda and consciously decide how you can change your routine to encourage alternative drink choices.

5. Stay hydrated:
To avoid reaching for a can of soda to quench your thirst, don’t allow yourself to get thirsty. Keep up your water intake throughout the day, and the soda will gradually lose its appeal. An added benefit of staying well hydrated is a boost in skin health. Our skin is made up of cells, which themselves are largely made up of water. When we’re dehydrated, even mildly, our skin becomes dry. Dry skin has less resilience and is more wrinkle prone than hydrated skin.

Good luck kicking the (soda) can. You can do it!

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