A 2020 study conducted by Spain’s University Of Navarra has found a link between junk food and cellular health. By examining the effects of an ultra-processed food diet on chromosomes, scientists discovered that telomere lengths became shortened. Telomeres are special segments of DNA at the end of each chromosome, that protect the chromosome from damage. Telomeres shorten naturally each time a cell divides, eventually shortening to the point where the cell dies in its normal lifecycle and is replaced by a new cell.
But when telomeres are shortened prematurely by unhealthy food, toxins, stress, and other factors, it can speed up the aging process.
The Link Between Junk Food And Cellular Aging
While much research already links diet to cellular heath, this new study specifically examined junk food—products that are manufactured, highly processed, and contain little nutritional value as compared to whole foods.
Lucia Alonso-Pedrero, a doctoral researcher at the University of Navarra, led the study to examine how these ultra-processed foods (UPFs) affect older adults. The research was based on the University of Navarra’s SUN project, which began in 2000 to examine how diet affects various health conditions. Collecting DNA data since 2008 from over 55 SUN participants, the researchers categorized participants based on their UPF consumption. Nearly 900 participants—645 men and 241 women—were divided into four groups based on the amount of UPFs they consume.
The results matched the researcher’s projections. The more UPFs people consumed, the greater their chances were for having shorter telomeres, compared to those who consumed fewer UPFs. In fact, the groups that consumed 3 servings of junk food or more per day were 82% more likely to have shortened telomeres. Additionally, this same group was more likely to have diabetes, abnormal blood fats under the skin, and were more likely to experience depression. This increased consumption was also linked to obesity and hypertension. (1)
Telomere Length And Diet
Previous data show links between shortened telomeres and age-related conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular disease. Since telomere dysfunction can cause many age-related diseases, keeping chromosomes as healthy as possible is essential for long-term health and optimal aging.
Telomere length shortens due to aging, though stress, infection, chronic diseases, oxidative stress, and inflammation, among other impacts. What, though, does telomere length have to do with junk food and cellular health? A diet high in UPFs is linked to an increase in inflammation and oxidative stress. Chronic inflammation can damage cells and their DNA, leading to shorter telomeres. It also affects DNA’s ability to effectively repair and maintain itself. Additionally, inflammation causes an increase in cell turnover, which results in increased cell division and faster shortening of telomeres.
While normal aging cannot be stopped, we can optimize the process for greater long-term health and wellness. A healthy diet and lifestyle can limit inflammation and oxidative stress—both of which cause telomere shortening. As seen in the University of Navarra’s study, ultra-processed foods are especially damaging to cellular health. Understanding these impacts can help one make better choices to support our DNA health. (2)
Ultra-Processed Foods vs Whole Foods
Avoiding the cellular damage that can result from UPFs requires knowing what these junk foods are. Ultra-processed foods include substances not normally used in cooking--such as additives, preservatives, flavors, colors, and emulsifiers. UPFs may be based on whole foods but are drastically processed until there is little nutritional value.
Products with a long list of ingredients and many additives are generally the types of UPFs that can damage cells and increase oxidative stress. This, in turn, shortens telomeres and speeds up the aging process. (3)
Thankfully, cellular damage can be stopped—and sometimes reversed—by adjusting the diet to include plenty of fresh, unprocessed whole foods. For example, studies have shown that the Mediterranean Diet can reduce inflammation and lower oxidative stress. Comprised of seasonal fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fish, low-fat meat, olive oil, and moderate consumption of alcohol, this diet is shown to have many beneficial effects. Research conducted on telomere length and the Mediterranean diet showed that resulting telomere preservation corresponded to 4.5 years of additional life expectancy. (4)
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Using Diet & Supplements To Support Cellular Health
In view of the research on junk food and cellular health, taking care to keep the cells healthy can provide numerous benefits to the body. As the research indicates, minimizing or eliminating UPFs from the diet is a simple first step in caring for chromosome health. Additionally, swapping these junk foods for fresh, whole foods can profoundly impact overall wellbeing. Not only do many whole foods contain powerful antioxidants—which can protect cells from inflammation—but they provide many key nutrients in supporting overall wellbeing.
In addition to making dietary changes, supplementing with essential vitamins, minerals and super nutrients can also prevent telomere shortening. For example, vitamin deficiencies have been linked to shortened telomeres, such as lack of vitamin B12. One study showed that supplementing with a variety of vitamins, including Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D3, B vitamins, and more resulted in a marked increase in telomere length. (5)
One key supplement for optimal cellular health and function, the researched form of Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP), has been shown to block a rogue protein called galectin-3 (Gal-3). Gal-3 increases with age, with thousands of studies showing its impacts on cellular health and many other organs and systems. By blocking Gal-3 with MCP, we can optimize cellular function and help defend telomere health. MCP also enhances the effectiveness of other supplements, contributing to antioxidant activity and balanced immune response. With so much oxidative stress and inflammation combatting the world’s populations daily, taking care to minimize the effects can provide long-term health benefits throughout one’s life. (6)
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As researchers continue to explore the exciting field of genetic health and longevity, new findings will help guide our lifestyle choices, so we can optimize the aging process and experience greater long-term wellness, naturally.
- Alonso-Pedrero L;Ojeda-Rodríguez A;Martínez-González MA;Zalba G;Bes-Rastrollo M;Marti A;. (2020, June). Ultra-processed food consumption and the risk of short telomeres in an elderly population of the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (SUN) Project. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32330232/
- Paul, L. (2011, March 22). Diet, nutrition and telomere length. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955286311000052
- Steele, E., Baraldi, L., Louzada, M., Moubarac, J., Mozaffarian, D., & Monteiro, C. (2016, January 01). Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: Evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/3/e009892
- Nikolina Škrobot Vidaček, Lucia Nanić, Sanda Ravlić, Mary Sopta, Marko Gerić, Goran Gajski, Vera Garaj-Vrhovac, Ivica Rubelj, Telomeres, Nutrition, and Longevity: Can We Really Navigate Our Aging?, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 73, Issue 1, January 2018, Pages 39–47, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glx082
- Tsoukalas, D., Fragkiadaki, P., Docea, A., Alegakis, A., Sarandi, E., Vakonaki, E., . . . Calina, D. (2019, July). Association of nutraceutical supplements with longer telomere length. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6559326/
- PectaSol Capsules. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://econugenics.com/collections/pectasol/products/pectasol-capsules