You could kill that kamikaze fly with a rolled-up newspaper—or you could just feed it a boxful of Krispy Kremes and a case of Coke and watch it keel over all on its own.
As for that last part, the same could go for you. Sort of.
A new study in Cell Reports found that when flies ate a diet of about 40% sugar for three weeks, they died 7% sooner than those that ate a healthy diet with only 5% sugar. And though the sweet-sucking flies went back on a clean, less-sugary diet just 21 days into their usual 90-day lifespan, they still kicked the bucket earlier.
It turns out that sugar inhibits a gene called FOXO, which is crucial for longevity. But here’s the especially creepy part: The exact same gene is found in yeast, worms, flies—and humans.
“It’s yet more evidence of how much we have to fear from excess sugar in the diet,” said David Gems, Ph.D., of UCL, the study’s co-author in a news release.
Granted, it would be pretty tough—ok, damn near impossible—to eat enough sugar to add up to 40% of your diet. “The dietary intervention we used was extreme—similar to feeding a human only cake for two decades,” said senior study VIP Nazif Alic, Ph.D. But for Americans who live on a crappy diet full of fast and processed foods, getting as much as 20% of your diet from sugar isn’t unusual.
And since we humans definitely have the FOXO gene, and sugar clearly damages it, “this is an important idea to explore.”
Got a killer sweet tooth? Keep an eye on nutrition labels—you’d be surprised how much extra sugar pops up in processed fare like breads, low-fat yogurt, marinara sauce, ketchup, fruit juice, and granola. And look for words like dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, glucose, malt syrup, and maltose: Sugar by any other name may sound sweet, but it’ll still shave moments off your life.