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Convenience foods and fast food lead to rapid aging of chromosomes

Spanish scientists from the University of Navarra have concluded that frequent consumption of unhealthy foods in the form of ultra-processed foods causes premature cellular aging.

Telomere is a biomarker of biological age.
Telomere: a biomarker of biological age.

Scientists at the University of Navarra in Spain summed up the results of a large-scale study conducted from 1999 to 2018. It was attended by 886 people aged 51 to 91 years. They provided scientists with DNA samples.

Fast food and rapid aging research

The experts were most interested in the telomere length of the volunteers. These are particular areas in chromosomes' composition, which are used as a biomarker of a person's biological age.

What is a Telomere

Telomeres are sections of chromosomes made up of a chain of DNA and specialized proteins. Each person has 23 pairs of chromosomes that contain our genetic code, and while telomeres do not carry genetic information, they are vital to maintaining the stability and integrity of chromosomes.

Telomere length.
The length of your telomeres could be the key to how fast you age.

With age, telomeres shorten with each cell division, some parts of them are lost. Therefore, telomere length is considered an indicator of biological age and may indicate the remaining life span.

The research

Experts analyzed DNA and health data of 886 people from 51 to 91 years old. 

They studied the effect of dietary habits on:
  • Blood pressure 
  • Diabetes 
  • Obesity
  • Coronary heart disease 
All participants were divided into 4 groups according to: 
  • Low
  • Medium-low
  • medium-high
  • high consumption of junk food

The results

The results showed that frequent consumption of sugary drinks, meat products and other ultra-processed foods containing flavorings, preservatives, fats and sugars causes faster aging of body cells.
  • Subjects who ate unhealthy food three times a day had the shortest telomeres compared to those who ate it less often. 
  • 20% of the subjects fell into this category.
  • Those groups with average and medium-high consumption were at 29% and 40% higher risk, respectively.
Despite the results of their research, the authors of the scientific paper noted that the causal relationship between unhealthy food and rapid aging is speculative. There is a possibility that the lifestyle of junk food abusers is generally unhealthy, which poses additional risks to early aging.

Harvard telomere research

Scientists at Harvard have been able to reverse the contraction of telomeres by acting on the PAPD5 enzyme. Experiments with rodents injected with human cells have confirmed the effectiveness and safety of the new approach.