The salt contained in the junk foods and fast foods so many overweight and obese teens consume may be aging their cells, a process that can lead to heart disease. A study presented at this year’s American Heart Association’s Epidemiology & Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity & Metabolism Scientific Sessions found that the protective ends of chromosomes (telomeres), which normally shorten with age, were significantly shorter in overweight and obese teens whose sodium intake was high compared to teens who consumed less sodium. In normal weight teens, sodium consumption didn’t affect telomere length. Obesity is associated with increased levels of inflammation, which also speeds telomere shortening, and carrying extra pounds appears to boost sensitivity to salt. The findings suggest that high sodium intake and obesity may act synergistically to accelerate cellular aging, according to study leader Haidong Zhu, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Medical College of Georgia. The solution: cutting back on salty foods may help and may be an easier first step toward health for overweight teens than losing weight, Zhu said. High sodium intake among the teens in the study averaged 4,142 milligrams per day; low-intake averaged 2,388 mg per day. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day.
Haidong Zhu, et al "High sodium intake is associated with short leukocyte telomere length in overweight and obese adolescents," AHA EPI/NPAM 2014; Abstract #MP64. American Heart Association Epidemiology & Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity & Metabolism Scientific Sessions 2014