A new study (published in April 2020) found an association between ultra processed food and advanced cellular ageing . These people are more likely to exhibit changes in their chromosomes linked to ageing.
Ultraprocessed foods are food products that contain multiple ingredients and are manufactured through many and varied industrial processes. Ultra processed foods are additive laden. They contain many ingredients that you don’t find in whole foods. These include preservatives, sweeteners, flavour enhancers, colours and flavours.
These ingredients are added for the manufacturers benefit to increase shelf life and profit margins.
Background – Telomere theory – advanced ageing
Before we dive into the studies findings, we need to understand the Telomere theory of ageing (one theory of ageing).
The word telemere comes from the Geek words telos (end) and meros (part). Telomeres are an essential part of human cells that affect how our cells age.  
Telomeres are the caps located at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes. They protect our DNA each time a cell divides. Telomeres are important for preserving the stability and integrity of the chromosomes that our body relies on to function.
Our cells replenish by copying themselves. Each time the cell divides, the DNA unwraps and the information is replicated. The very last bit of chromosome (the telomere) can’t always be completely copied. As a result, the telomeres become shorter each time until they are gone. When this happens, the “real DNA” can’t be copied anymore resulting in advanced ageing, as it can’t replicate. Scientific studies have shown a strong connection between short telomeres and cellular ageing 
Objective of the study
The objective of the study was to evaluate the association between ultra processed food consumption and the risk of having short telomeres in an elderly population.
This was a cross sectional study of 886 participants aged 57-91 years from Spain. These individuals provided DNA samples and provided detail information about their eating habits every two years.
Results of the study
The participants with the highest ultra processed food consumption had almost double the odds of having short telomeres compared with the lowest consumption.
The study concluded that a higher consumption of ultra processed foods (ie greater than 3 servings per day) was associated with a higher risk of having shorter telomeres, contributing to advanced ageing.
 Lucia Alonso-Pedrero et al. Ultra-processed food consumption and the risk of short telomeres in an elderly population of the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (SUN) Project The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 111, Issue 6, June 2020, Pages 1259–1266
 Jaskelioff M, et al. Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase-deficient mice. Nature. 2011;469:102–107.
 Sahin E, DePinho RA. Linking functional decline of telomeres, mitochondria and stem cells during ageing. Nature. 2010;464:520–528.
 Armanios M, Blackburn EH. The telomere syndromes. Nature Reviews Genetics. 2012;13:693–704.
Frankie Bell is the Managing Director of Additive Free Kids, a food coach, mentor and is one of Australia’s leading activists against additives in foods.
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