According to a study recently published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, presented at an online medical conference, those who consume a lot of industrially processed junk foods are more likely to exhibit a change in their chromosome that is linked to ageing.
Scientists at the European and International Conference on Obesity reported that those who consumed three or more ultra-processed foods per day were found to have doubled their odds of their DNA and telomere proteins being shorter when compared to those from people who rarely consume such foods.
Shorter telomeres are a proven marker of biological ageing at the cellular level, this study suggests that diet is a factor in driving cells to age faster. It was noted that although the correlation is very strong, the causal relationship between consuming highly processed foods and shrinking telomeres is speculative, additional research is required.
Every human has 23 pairs of chromosomes that house our genetic code. While telomeres don’t carry any genetic information, these are the protective end caps that are vital for preserving the stability and integrity of our chromosomes, and the DNA that all the cells within the body rely on to function. With age, telomeres shorten naturally as each time a cell divides a part of the telomere is lost, and this reduction in length is recognized as a marker of biological age.
Scientists from the University of Navarra Spain wanted to investigate the suspected connection between shrinking telomeres and regular consumption of highly processed junk food. Previous studies pointed to a possible link, but the findings were inconclusive.
Ultra-processed junk foods are industrially manufactured substances that are composed of some mix of oils, fats, sugars, starch, and proteins that contain very little if any whole or natural foods. The items will typically include artificial flavourings, emulsifiers, preservatives, colourings, and other additives to increase shelf life and profit margins. But these same compounds also mean that these types of foods are very nutritionally poor compared to less-processed options.
Previous studies have shown strong correlations between ultra-processed foods and obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, depression, and some types of cancer. Such conditions are often age-related as they are linked to oxidative stress and inflammation which are both known to influence the length of telomeres.
In this study health data for nearly 900 people who were 55 years of age or older were involved in this study who provided DNA samples in 2008 and provided detailed data about the eating habits at that time as well as every two years after. Participants were equally divided into 4 groups depending on their consumption of ultra-processed foods from low to high.
Those in the high intake of ultra-processed foods group were found to be more likely to have a family history of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, abnormal blood fats, and snacked more in between meals. This group also consumed more fats, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, sodium, cholesterols, SSBs, fast food, and processed meats while intaking fewer carbs, protein, fibre, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, and other micronutrients. Those who consumed more ultra-processed foods were observed to be less likely to adhere to a Mediterranean style diet.
As the consumption of ultra-processed foods increased the likelihood of having shortened telomeres increased dramatically with each quartile above the lowest having a risk increase of 29% for the medium-low group, 40% for the medium to high group, and 82% for the high consumption of ultra-processed food group for having shortened telomeres. Consumption of ultra-processed foods was also associated with the risk of depression, hypertension, being overweight, obesity, and all-cause mortality, especially in those with low levels of physical activity.
“In this cross-sectional study of elderly Spanish subjects, we showed a robust strong association between ultra-processed food consumption and telomere length. Further research in larger longitudinal studies with baseline and repeated measures of TL is needed to confirm these observations,” concluded the authors.
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