Drinking sugary beverages is associated with markers of accelerated aging and early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study reports.
Researchers used data on more than 4,000 people over 30, examining their brains with M.R.I. and measuring memory with psychological tests. All completed well-validated food frequency questionnaires.
Sugary beverage intake is an indirect measure of how much sugar we get in our diets, which is difficult to measure precisely.
The study, in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, found that on average, the more sugary drinks consumed, the lower the total brain volume and the lower the scores on memory tests. Brain shrinkage is tied to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Compared with those who drank no sugary drinks, those who drank one or two a day had a reduced brain volume equivalent to 1.6 years of normal aging, and lower memory scores equivalent to 5.8 years of aging. Those who drank more than two had decreased brain volume equivalent to two years of normal aging and lower memory scores by the equivalent of 11 years.
The researchers controlled for diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking and many other health and behavioral characteristics.
“Although we can’t prove cause and effect, these data suggest that we should be cautious about drinking sugary beverages,” said the lead author, Matthew P. Pase, a senior research fellow at Boston University. “They’re empty calories that contribute to weight gain and metabolic disease.”