Sugary drinks aren’t just bad for your teeth. According to a recent study, children aged two to three years old who consume sugar-sweetened beverages can have shorter telomeres.
The study by researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) revealed that if this early-life exposure alters the length of telomeres, or “the protective end caps for DNA within cells’ chromosomes,” it could even affect risk for chronic illnesses as the children grow older.
What do telemeres do?
Telomeres shrink as people age, and this change is often linked to some adult studies with metabolic and inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver cirrhosis, and ulcerative colitis.
Janet Wojcicki, Ph.D., associate professor at the UCSF Department of Pediatrics and the lead author of the study, explained that research has determined that the length of telomeres drastically “shortens fastest in the first years of life,” but it remains unknown if this is linked to chronic disease risks.
For the study, the scientists from UCSF checked telomere length in white blood cells from 61 Latino children who drank beverages like soda, sweetened juices and Kool-Aid. Telomere length was measured via a method called qPCR, “which compares the ratio of the abundance of telomeres versus the abundance of a single copy gene (t/s ratio).” This data indicates the average telomere length in a population of cells. Measurements were taken during infancy, and it was taken again during the preschool years of the children.
Shorter telomore length linked to sugar-sweetened beverages
The researchers discovered that the value of the t/s ratio used to gauge telomere length averaged 1.58. Each monthly serving of a sugar-sweetened beverage was linked to a t/s ratio that was at least 0.009 less than the average, which implies “a correspondingly shorter telomere length.”
Wojcicki said that despite the “relatively low levels of sugared-beverage consumption, the study revealed that the frequency of the children’s consumption was connected to telomere length, which reflects the connection found in some studies of adults.”
At least 62 percent of the children in the current study started drinking sodas by age two to three, and the average number of servings was at least five to six servings per month.
One thing to note about the results of the study is the association of higher sugar-sweetened beverage consumption with telomere length that was greater among non-obese children. Wojcicki noted the possibility that obese young children have already “reached a threshold of damage from exposure to increased inflammation.” The researcher adds that it will be interesting to look into the unhealthy metabolic changes that happen before obesity develops.
In previous studies of Latino children, Wojcicki et al. determined that high levels of sugar-sweetened soda consumption at three years of age was connected to more rapid shortening of telomeres at ages four or five. Children with mothers who consumed fewer sugar-sweetened beverages while pregnant had longer telomeres, just like the children of mothers who breastfed.
Wojcicki concluded, “We really need a stronger push to understand how exposures during the mother’s pregnancy and immediately after birth impact health throughout life.”
Healthier alternatives to sugary drinks
If your kids love sugary drinks but you’re worried about their daily sugar intake, try making the healthier drink options listed below:
- Smoothies – Use unsweetened coconut or almond milk and blend it with a cup of berries or other frozen fruit.
- Homemade iced tea – Brew a batch of naturally sweet tea, like apple cinnamon tea, mint tea, or berry tea, and leave the tea bags in. Let the mixture chill in the fridge overnight.
- Carbonated water – This is a great alternative to soda. Add some lemon, lime, grapefruit, fresh berries, mint, or herbs for more flavor.
- Herbal tea – Even plain herbal tea has a naturally sweet flavor so you won’t need to add sugar. Try herbal teas like ginger, dandelion, hibiscus and rooibos.
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Is Bread Really the Staff of Life… or the Stuff of Disease?
For most us, there are few foods more comforting than bread.
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And that smell… few scents are quite as pleasant as fresh bread baking in the oven.
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The Bible practically commands followers to eat it: “Give us this day our daily bread…” The government put it at the base of the food pyramid. And for centuries, it has been called “the staff of life.”
Of course, there are some who disagree…
Well-known cardiologist, Dr. William Davis, calls wheat “the perfect chronic poison.”
And for a poison, we sure eat lots of it…
The average American consumes 55 pounds of wheat flour every year, making refined flour the #1 source of calories in the American Diet – a situation that nutrition expert Chris Kresser describes as, “a public health catastrophe.”
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- Is it the perfect poison… or an essential daily food?
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The answers to these questions may surprise you!
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Sponsored Health Resources
In the years that I've been working on this website project I've come across some amazing resources by some very special people. I'd like to share them with you here.
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1) Everyone knows green smoothies are healthy right? Have you heard of a “red” smoothie? If not, check out this story…
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Enjoy! Let me know how these work out for you. And if you run across anything I've missed please let me know.