Study Finds Too Much Salt Speeds Up Aging

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All those anti-aging creams and injections you rely on may not be as useful as you think, and it’s possible that tossing something else out may have an even greater effect on how old you look and feel: salt. The negative health consequences of ingesting too much salt have been known for a while, but this is the first time researchers have discovered the effects at a microscopic level.

American Heart Association: “Lowering Sodium Intake May Slow Down Ageing Process”

The lead author of the study, Haidong Zhu, M.D., Ph.D., spearheaded the research effort that found too much sodium has a detrimental effect on cells. The thinking is that if the cells’ lifespan is shortened, that effect extends to the rest of the body because cells are the building blocks of life.

What salt does to the body is signal the need for more water, causing the kidneys to hold onto more of it instead of using it to filter waste. As more fluid remains inside instead of going out, pressure rises (think of putting more water into a balloon, and how much heavier it feels). As fluid increases, so does blood pressure because it now has to compete with the strain of extra fluid and artery walls have to become thicker to cope with the extra pressure (just like pouring water into a glass versus a balloon). So along with higher internal pressure, there are also more toxins in the body because the kidneys can’t work as efficiently.

Salt on a Microscopic Level

In cellular replication, a single strand of DNA is called a chromosome, while a chromatid is one copy of a chromosome that’s replicated itself. The ends of a chromatid are called telomeres, and their job is to protect the whole thing from deteriorating.

However, when they’re exposed to too much salt, the telomeres get shorter: it’s almost as if salt corrodes the telomeres the way a cliff becomes eroded by wind and water. A little bit is okay, but too much starts to strip the telomeres away, causing the chromatid to become bare and unprotected.

Telomeres naturally get shorter as we age, which is why we see things like wrinkles, saggy skin, spots,and other physical indications of aging. Other things like smoke, inactivity and high body fat also cause telomeres to shorten, but this is the first time salt’s been seen to do it, too.

What You Can Do

Losing weight (obesity’s linked to inflammation and salt sensitivity) and cutting sodium from your diet are the quickest ways to avoid unnecessarily shortening telomeres. Sodium is found in just about all food, from bread to milk, making it hard to avoid completely. But cutting it out altogether is neither practical nor warranted, as the body actually needs sodium on a daily basis — it just doesn’t need as much as we think it does.

There’s almost no good reason for adding salt to food, such as to fries to prepared pasta (as opposed to adding it to boiling water). If it’s flavor you’re worried about, there are literally dozens and dozens of spices that will add taste without being nearly as detrimental on the body as salt is. Often times, food will taste bland once you stop adding salt, but that’s usually because you have to retrain your taste buds just like you trained them to get used to a certain level of salt.

It may not be easy right off the bat, but your cells will thank you.


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