We all know that constantly drowning your fries in salt can, over time, lead to complications like high blood pressure and kidney disorders. For the past several years, doctors have been issuing the alarm over what processed, high-sodium food is doing to people. A new study, though, implies that there is an additional health risk to ingesting a ton of salt: it also causes people to age faster.
Medical College of Georgia researchers have discovered that telomeres, the protective caps on chromosome ends, are shorter in teenagers who are overweight or obese, and who consume high amounts of salt compared to the intake of teens with low-salt diets. Telomeres are part of the body’s natural aging process, gradually becoming shorter each time cells replicate. Diminished telomere is associated with mortality, aging-related diseases, cancers and tumor progression.
A total of 766 people between the ages of 14 and 18 were involved in the study. The participants who consumed the least amount of salt ingested an average of 2,388 mgs per day, while high-intake teenagers ingested 4,142 mgs per day. The American Health Association recommends 1,500 mgs per day, which is equivalent to about 2/3 of a teaspoon.
The study findings indicate as well that the combination of sodium and obesity might accelerate the telomere shortening process more than either action by itself. Obesity has been linked before to inflammation, which has the effect of speeding up telomere shortening.
Haidong Zhu, the study’s lead author, says the research suggests that “high sodium intake and obesity may act synergistically to accelerate cellular aging.”
He notes that decreasing sodium consumption has many potentially positive effects — it may “slow down the cellular aging process that plays an important role in the development of heart disease” as well.
Zhu suggests that lowering sodium intake might be the easier first step for teenagers who want to reduce their risk of developing heart disease, and he recommends that parents help kids replace processed foods with fresh fruit and meals.