How Sugar Makes You Age Faster
Want an easy and inexpensive way to look and feel younger? Kick your sugar kick!
The phrase “eat less sugar” is ubiquitous, but besides its links to type II diabetes, obesity, and cavities, other negatives of sugar are rarely discussed in the media. Maybe everyone is tired of hearing about sugar to the point that any further news is underwhelming. Or perhaps this is because certain adverse effects of sugar, like its contribution to heart disease, were purposefully covered up.
Whatever the reason, there's one sugary side effect you may not be aware of. And, depending on your age, it may be staring you right in the face every time you look in the mirror.
High sugar intake contributes to aging, both internally—where most of the damage is done—and aesthetically through AGEs (yes, that is the actual acronym for Advanced Glycation End products).
When there's too much glucose (sugar molecules) in the blood, it sticks to proteins, which can be found in the walls of all cells. When glucose sticks to cells, it covers surface structures that are integral to cell identification and communication. It’s like someone taking away your identification in a country where you didn’t speak the language – your identity couldn’t be verified and you'd be unable to communicate. For example, glucose can stick to receptors (think a keyhole and hormones are the key) for hormones. When hormones can’t access these receptors, they can’t affect change in the cell. This may not sound like much, but it’s believed to influence degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s by blocking hormones needed to maintain neural connections. It can also decrease your sensitivity to insulin (the hormone that allows cells to absorb glucose from the blood), meaning blood sugar stays high for unhealthy lengths of time, which leads to even more problems.
Another effect of AGEs is that they create stiffness in the body by gluing cells together or creating a hardened layer. It’s like covering a layer of wires with cement – the wires are no longer pliable and stuck in one position. This is problematic because parts of our bodies are meant to be elastic and fluid. Stiffness can manifest as hardened arteries, leading to atherosclerosis and/or infection (white blood cells are unable to get through the stiff arteries to the infection site). The buildup of AGEs causes problems throughout the body and has been implicated in vision problems, dementia, and neuropathy.
Aren’t these also symptoms of diabetes? Exactly! Unchecked blood sugar levels create the same problems in diabetics and non-diabetics – it’s all about sugar intake.
And how about visible signs of aging? Collagen, a molecule made of chains of proteins and designed to hold neighboring cells together, provides structure and strength to body tissues (think skin, bones, joints, muscles and organs). It’s what makes skin smooth and supple and joints limber. But too much sugar in your diet can interfere with the formation of collagen, making it more likely to wear down earlier in life. Sugar also prevents proper repair of damaged collagen, leading to wrinkles and stiffening joints. It even plays a role in dreaded cellulite formation as good collagen is needed to form the tissue that supports fat deposits. AGEs can build up in skin, making them another contributor to age spots and wrinkling.
Clearly, poor dietary habits catch up to you but by changing your diet and lifestyle, early aging doesn’t have to be inevitable.
For a more in-depth discussion on the harmful effects of sugar, collagen and how to help heal your body, check out the book Deep Nutrition by Dr. Cate Shanahan and Luke Shanahan. Dr. William Davis details more about AGEs and how sugar ages us in Wheat Belly, and take a look at his post for how to test how fast you’re aging.