It is well-documented that, due to their high sugar content, regular consumption of soft drinks has been linked to the development of various health problems including diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

A new study has suggested that their negative physiological effects may be even more far-reaching, however, concluding that even consuming just one soda per day can cause premature aging.

The study identified that sodas affect telomeres, the protective caps found on the ends of our chromosomes, by increasing the rate at which they decrease in size. This happens naturally as we get older, but drinking sugary sodas hastens the process significantly.

"Having shortened telomeres is a strong predictor of developing chronic diseases earlier in life," study co-author Dr. Elissa Epel, director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Aging, Metabolism, and Emotion Center, told The Huffington Post in a telephone interview. "So in addition to obesity, there’s another path through which soda can be impacting our health."

The effects of soda consumption on telomere length was so pronounced that it has been deemed to be as harmful as smoking, and drinking a daily 20-ounce serving was thought to increase biological aging by 4.6 years.

“This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness,” Epel said in a written statement. “This finding held regardless of age, race, income and education level.”

"Our results are highly suggestive that drinking soda would make your cells age faster," Leung told The Huffington Post in an email. "Studies like ours provide initial discoveries that can be explored further in experimental studies, which help to determine the nature of this important relationship."

The study was published online in the American Journal of Public Health on Oct. 16.

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