What would happen if mice ate sugar at a rate comparable to what many Americans consume? Females die earlier, and males reproduce less, researchers said in a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.
The female rodents that ate a diet with 25 percent sugar died twice as quickly as their peers, and male mice produced 25 percent fewer offspring.
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For humans, it's the equivalent of drinking a few sodas a day. Added sugar accounted for 17 percent of the average American diet in 2008.
"That's three sodas if the rest of your diet is pristine and sugar-free," lead author and biologist James S. Ruff told The Washington Post. "And those are 12-ounce sodas, not double Big Gulps."
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Previous research has shown the negative health effects of sugar at much higher levels. The researchers wanted to see the effects of a more moderate level of sugar intake, so they started by feeding 156 mice either sweetened or normal diets for 26 weeks.
Most substances that are toxic to mice are also toxic to humans, study author Wayne Potts told The Washington Post. The researchers used a combination of fructose and glucose to sweeten the mice meals, to mimic high fructose corn syrup. Then, they let the rodents loose in rooms where they were monitored for 32 weeks.
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While many of the females had died by the end, the team noticed that the males eating the sugary diet weren't able to control territory as well as their peers. Overall, they held 26 fewer territories, which may have led to the decline in reproduction.
"(Our findings) set a new standard for caution even at low doses of added sugar," said Potts, who also told CBS News that he and his family are eating less sugar.