How Sugar and AGEs Contribute to Premature Aging
Humans are in love with sugar, and whether intentionally or unintentionally, sugar has saturated our food. We evolved to love sugar because it was once a rare treat found in nature that was calorically rich and sustaining. Over time our love affair with sugar has created an over abundance in modern society that our bodies' are not capable of withstanding.
It is clear that sugar is detrimental to our health, but few of us realize how harmful it truly is, and the role sugar plays in premature aging. With the wide availability, addictive qualities, and social norms that surround sugar and alcohol, many of us are consuming more sugar than ever.
There are many different methods and approaches to living in optimal health, but healthy eating has become more confusing for consumers with the increase in green-washing. As we try to navigate the grocery store, we look for healthy alternatives wrapped in green labels and marketed as "natural." Honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and many fruits might seem like a safe alternative to cane sugar, but they virtually have the same effect on our bodies as traditional sugar. Even those of us actively avoiding sugars may not realize we are consuming it through consumption of certain grains, milks, alcohol, and fruits that may not be perceived as sugars.
Sugar wreaks havoc on your entire system, causing inflammation, AGEs, and free radical damage that scavenge our precious DNA and visibly manifests in our skin.
The effect of sugars on aging skin is governed by the simple act of covalently cross-linking two collagen fibers, which renders both of them incapable of easy repair. Glucose and fructose link the amino acids present in the collagen and elastin that support the dermis, producing advanced glycation end products or "AGEs." Even eating too many dry foods that are prepared by baking, stir frying, etc. create AGEs. This process is accelerated in all body tissues when sugar is elevated and is further stimulated by ultraviolet light in the skin. The effect on vascular, renal, retinal, coronary, and cutaneous tissues is being defined, as are methods of reducing the glycation load through careful diet and use of supplements.
Sugar Damages Collagen & Elastin
The proteins that are most vulnerable to damage are those that serve as the building blocks for your skin: Collagen and elastin. These proteins keep skin firm and elastic & are responsible for the healthy and youthful complexion. AGEs make your collagen and elastin stiff, dry and brittle. The effects are seen in the form of fine lines, sagging and wrinkles.
Sugar Affects The Type Of Collagen You Have
A high-sugar diet also affects the type of collagen you have: Type I, II and III. The stability and resilience of collagen build with each stage- Type I is the weakest and Type III the strongest. Glycation degrades Type III collagen into Type I, thereby diminishing your skin’s structural strength and stability.
Sugar Deactivates Natural Antioxidant Enzymes
In addition to damaging your skin’s essential proteins, AGEs deactivate your body’s natural antioxidant enzymes. Without protection from antioxidants, your skin is more vulnerable to the free radical damage caused by environmental assailants like pollution and UV rays. Left to roam (& bind to your skin’s structural proteins), free radicals trigger oxidative stress that contributes to premature aging of your skin.
You can help prevent the damaging effects of sugar by cutting back on the sugar in your diet, supplementing with vitamins B1 and B6, loading up on antioxidants, and by drinking plenty of water, and getting quality sleep.
As always, there's no hacks or short cuts here. But living a long, healthy beautiful life is worth every ounce of effort.
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Nguyen HP, Katta R. Sugar Sag: Glycation and the Role of Diet in Aging Skin. Skin Therapy Lett. 2015 Nov;20(6):1-5. PMID: 27224842.
Cao C, Xiao Z, Wu Y, Ge C. Diet and Skin Aging-From the Perspective of Food Nutrition. Nutrients. 2020 Mar 24;12(3):870. doi: 10.3390/nu12030870. PMID: 32213934; PMCID: PMC7146365.