Eating snacks high in salt may speed up cell aging in overweight teenagers, Counsel and Heal reported.
In a new study, researchers from the Medical College of Georgia sought to analyze the relationship between high sodium intake and telomere length. Telomeres are the protective caps covering the ends of chromosomes, and they naturally shorten over time as people age. However, harmful lifestyle habits – such as smoking and lack of exercise – can expedite the shortening of telomeres, ultimately speeding up the aging process.
The researchers recruited 766 people between the ages of 14 and 18, who were then split into groups depending on their sodium intake. Participants who ate an average of 2,388 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day were categorized in the low-intake groups, while participants who ate an average of 4,142 mg/day were placed in the high-intake groups. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends that most people consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
Through their analysis, the researchers found that teenagers who were overweight or obese and had high sodium intake had much shorter telomeres than the teenagers who consumed less sodium. However, sodium intake did not have an effect on telomere length in normal weight teens.
Given their findings, the researchers argue that lowering sodium levels should be a high priority for overweight teenagers.
"Lowering sodium intake may be an easier first step than losing weight for overweight young people who want to lower their risk of heart disease," said Dr. Haidong Zhu, assistant professor of pediatrics at Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Regents University in Augusta, GA. "The majority of sodium in the diet comes from processed foods, so parents can help by cooking fresh meals more often and by offering fresh fruit rather than potato chips for a snack."