Three or more servings per day of what researches call “ultra-processed food” – mass-manufactured foods containing oils, sugars, fats, starch and little nutrients – may lead to changes in chromosomes linked to aging, scientists at the European and International Conference on Obesity reported at an online medical conference Tuesday.
The research, from a study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that having multiple daily servings of junk food, like cookies, chips, fast-food burgers or other processed meals, doubles the chance that certain strands of DNA, called telomeres, would be shorter than those who ate healthier.
Shorter telomeres are a marker of accelerated biological aging, according to Science Alert, which reported on the new research this week.
The scientists, Maria Best-Rastrollo and Amelia Marti of the University of Navarra, Spain, analyzed the health data of around 900 people aged 55 or older who gave DNA samples in 2008, and checked back on them every two years afterward.
The group of 645 men and 241 women were divided into four groups, based on how much processed food they ate. Findings indicated that participants who had a higher intake of junk food were more likely to have a history of diabetes, abnormal blood fats or cardiovascular disease in their family history.
That group also exhibited up to an 82% chance of having shortened telomeres, compared to the group who ate healthier.
Previous research has established a potential correlation between processed meats, sodas and other high-sugar foods but it’s been unclear what age-related conditions may occur.