Ultra-processed foods may accelerate biological aging

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A study links the consumption of ultra-processed foods with the shortening of the body’s telomeres.
Telomeres are structures located at the ends of our chromosomes. Although they contain no genetic information themselves, they preserve the integrity of chromosomes by keeping their ends from fraying, much as shoelace tips protect the laces.
Telomeres become shorter and less effective over time as chromosomes replicate. Scientists view them as markers of an individual’s biological age at a cellular level.
New research indicates that eating ultra-processed foods is linked to the accelerated shortening of telomeres and cell aging.
The researchers, from the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, presented their findings at this year’s European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) in September.
The consumption of ultra-processed foods, or UPFs, is on the rise worldwide. UPFs are manufactured food products comprising the building blocks of naturally occurring foods: protein isolates, sugars, fats, and oils.
However, while their components are often extracted from natural sources, UPFs ultimately contain no, or very little, in the way of whole foods.
Previous research has not conclusively established a link between UPFs in general and telomere length (TL). However, researchers have noted associations between TL and alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meats, and foods high in saturated fat and sugar.
Other research indicates a UPF connection to several serious conditions, such as obesity, hypertension, depression, metabolic syndrome, some types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. However, these conditions also tend to be age-related and thus difficult to associate definitively with the consumption of UPFs.
The NOVA system classifies foods according to the degree of processing that their production involves, as opposed to their nutritional content. The goal of Alonso-Pedrero and her colleagues was to investigate the effect of UPF consumption in older adults using NOVA as a means of categorizing the foods that they consumed.
In 2008, all SUN participants over the age of 55 years took part in a genetic study that forms the foundation of the new research. A total of 886 individuals — 645 men and 241 women — provided saliva samples for DNA analysis and self-reported their daily food consumption. Their average age was 67.7 years.

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