Teenagers who eat lots of salty food may age more quickly than those on a low-sodium diet, researchers have revealed.
According to the study, the speed of the ageing process can be reduced simply by reducing salt levels in your diet- a method which is particularly effective among overweight of obese people.
The research examined the effect of salt consumption on telomeres - the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes (the twisted strands of DNA housing our genes). Shorter telomeres are associated with age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease and heart disease.
According to previous studies, telomeres naturally shorten with age but the process can be sped up by smoking and obesity.
The study, which studied 766 teenagers aged between 14 and 18, found that obese teenagers with a high-salt diet had considerably shorter telomeres.
However, among teenagers within the healthy weight bracket, a high salt intake did not affect telomere length.
Lead researcher Dr Haidong Zhu said in a statement: "Even in these relatively healthy young people, we can already see the effect of high sodium intake, suggesting that high sodium intake and obesity may act synergistically to accelerate cellular ageing."
"Lowering sodium intake may be an easier first step than losing weight for overweight young people who want to lower their risk of heart disease," she said.
"The majority of sodium in the diet comes from processed foods, so parents can help by cooking fresh meals more often and by offering fresh fruit rather than [crisps] for a snack."
The study was conducted at Georgia Regents University, in Augusta, and was presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism Scientific Sessions 2014.