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Salty Snacks Speed Aging in Overweight Teens

Update Date: Mar 20, 2014 04:02 PM EDT

Salty snacks may speed aging in overweight teens, a new study suggests.

New research reveals that overweight of obese teenagers who eat lots of salty foods show signs of faster cell aging.

"Lowering sodium intake, especially if you are overweight or obese, may slow down the cellular aging process that plays an important role in the development of heart disease," lead researcher Haidong Zhu, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Regents University in Augusta, GA., said in a news release.

Previous studies revealed that telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes naturally shorten with age. However, harmful lifestyle habits like smoking, lack of exercise and high body fat, have been shown to accelerate the aging process by hastening the shortening of telomeres.

Researchers said the goal of the latest study was to understand how sodium affects telomere length.

The latest study involved 766 people between the ages of 14 and 18. Participants were split into groups depending on their sodium intake. Participants in the low-intake groups ate an average of 2,388 mg/day, compared with 4,142 mg/day in the high-intake group. Researchers noted that both groups consumed significantly more than the recommended maximum of 1,500 mg/day, which is equivalent to about 2/3 teaspoon of salt.

After accounting for several factors influencing telomere length, researchers found that overweight or obese teens with high sodium intake had significantly shorter telomeres than those who consumed less sodium.

However, sodium intake did not affect telomere length in normal weight teens.

 "Even in these relatively healthy young people, we can already see the effect of high sodium intake, suggesting that high sodium intake and obesity may act synergistically to accelerate cellular aging," Zhu said.

Previous studies have linked obesity to high levels of inflammation, which can also accelerate telomere shortening. Researchers said the findings suggest that obesity also increases sensitivity to salt, which may explain why higher sodium intake had a greater effect in overweight teens.

"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," Zhu said. "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."

The findings were presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology & Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity & Metabolism Scientific Sessions 2014.

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