Aging is a complex process that affects every organ, cell, molecule and body function. Consuming high amounts of sugar will most definitely accelerate this process. When sugar gets into your circulation, it goes through a process called glycation in which the sugar binds to proteins, creating molecules called advanced glycation end products also known as AGEs-a fitting acronym for the topic at hand.
AGEs are harmful in that they are damaging to different proteins throughout the body. One of the main functions of proteins is to provide structure for the body. Approximately one third of the body’s protein is collagen. Collagen is found in areas such as muscles, bones, blood vessels, ligaments and the skin. Among collagen, your skin also contains another protein fiber called elastin, making the skin the perfect target for the AGEs. Elastin and collagen are the building blocks that keep your skin firm, smooth and help maintain its elasticity. When these protein fibers are damaged and their structures are weakened, the skin starts to lose its resiliency and the skin begins to sag and form wrinkles. To add to the insult, AGEs also turn off some of your body’s antioxidant enzymes, further reducing your protective mechanisms against aging.
The negative effects of AGEs are very pronounced in individuals with delayed diagnosis of diabetes or poorly controlled diabetes. The chronic high blood sugar levels in diabetic individuals leads to the accumulations of AGEs which in turn not only reflect as premature signs of aging as the skin’s elasticity becomes compromised but can also damage the blood vessels of the heart, eyes, kidneys and the extremities. The blood test HbA1c (hemoglobin A1c) is used to measure the amount of glycation on red blood cells, making this test a very important tool to assess how well blood sugar levels are kept under control. The higher the HbA1c levels, the higher the glycation and the more accelerated the process of aging and damage to the body.
The good news is that there are steps that can be taken to minimize AGE formation. One way to do this is to reduce your intake of sugar since a rise in blood sugar levels is one of the main driving forces behind glycation. According to a 2011 report released by Statistics Canada, Canadians consume an average of 26 teaspoons of sugar a day, which amounts to about 88 pounds per year. 35% of this intake comes from added sugar. This is an area that we can definitely improve on.
Always read labels for hidden sources of sugar. For instance, many store bought sauces, salad dressings, dried fruit, canned foods and breads contain added sugar. Other high sugar ingredients to look for and avoid include corn syrup, malt, molasses, fructose, turbinado, dextrose, glucose and fruit juice concentrate. And simply avoid adding sugar to your food and drinks. For instance, if you are used to adding sugar to your tea, next time try adding a dash of cinnamon instead. It gives it a mild, sweet flavor and has the added benefit of supporting healthy blood sugar levels. Eliminate poor quality carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta as these products quickly break down to sugar and spike up the blood sugar levels. Also avoid “sugar-free” products as most of these are made with artificial sweeteners that among other side effects can trigger sugar cravings.
Another way to reduce the effects of glycation is to consume more antioxidants. Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals that would otherwise be damaging to your skin. Many antioxidants inhibit AGE formation. Blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes are all excellent sources of antioxidants. Drinking green or white tea on a regular basis will further deliver potent antioxidants into your system. Supplementing with vitamin C and E also helps enhance your antioxidant levels.
More sugar does in fact amount to more wrinkles. But the skin is just an external indicator of internal health and eating sugar will actively age you inside and out. Making a conscious effort to reduce your daily intake of sugar and increasing your antioxidant intake will have a great impact not only on your skin but also on your overall health and in prevention of many diseases.
Always consult your naturopathic doctor before initiating a new regimen.
Wellness Naturopathic Centre, North Vancouver, BC
The information on this website is for education purposes only. It does not substitute for proper assessment and treatment by a licensed health care provider.