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Excessive Salt Consumption May Speed Up Aging in Teens

A DNA double helix in an undated artist's illustration released by the National Human Genome Research Institute to ReutersA new study reveals that eating too much salty food might speed up cellular aging in teenagers who are overweight or obese.

The study was presented this week at American Heart Association Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2014 Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, California.

Researchers divided nearly 800 teens, ages 14 to 18, into two groups based on their salt intake. Those in the high-intake group consumed an average of more than 4,100 milligrams (mg) of salt a day, while those in the low-intake group consumed an average of less than 2,400 mg a day.

However, both groups consumed more than the recommended levels of 1,500 mg a day.

Previous research found that protective ends on chromosomes (telomeres) naturally shorten with age, but the process is accelerated by smoking, lack of physical activity and high body fat. The results of this study showed that teens within normal weight guidelines did not have shorter telomeres.  Overweight or obese teens who consumed higher levels of sodium had significantly shorter telomeres.

Lead author Dr. Haidong Zhu, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, said, “Even in these relatively healthy young people, we can already see the effects of high [salt] intake, suggesting that high [salt] intake and obesity may act synergistically to accelerate cellular aging.”

This current study is the first to examine the impact of sodium intake on telomere length.

Telomeres function to prevent the chromosome from deterioration. Everyday, the cells in the body are dividing and the DNA is replicating, however the telomeres prevent the chromosomes from losing their ends and all the important information during cellular division. A telomere is made up of pairs of sequential bases, and a telomere at the end of a chromosome can reach the length of 15,000 base pairs.

It is possible that the shortening of the telomere strands at the end of the chromosomes could lead one to be susceptible to DNA deterioration and conditions like cancer; however more research is needed to determine the exact relationship between telomeres, sodium and heart disease.

But for now, Zhu suggests that lowering salt or sodium intake could be an easier first step in preventing heart disease or premature aging of cells than losing weight for those who are overweight or obese.

S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, http://Facebook.com/TheReporterandTheGirl and visit her website at http://www.SCRhyne.com

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