The perils of smoking are well known and the effects of cigarettes on our appearance are all too obvious in the advanced wrinkles that plague smokers from a younger age than is normal, but sugar is a less publicized culprit of premature aging. Sugar, once only an occasional addition to our diet, over the last few decades our consumption of sugar has increased dramatically and with it is has the incidence of insulin resistance syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In 1700, the average person consumed only four pounds of sugar per year, by 1900 this had risen to 90 pounds of sugar per year and by 2009 the average American consumed 180 pounds of sugar every year, or to put it another way, half a pound of sugar every single day. Unfortunately this sugar craze does more to human health than give us tooth decay – it can also cause inflammation, damage our immune system and accelerate the aging process of the skin.
How Sugar Harms Your Skin
When you consume sugar it breaks down and attaches itself to proteins or lipid fats that then form into harmful molecules called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs). Normally the metabolic functioning of molecules is controlled by enzymes but in the case of AGEs, this doesn’t occur and they have nothing to regulate them. They then set about damaging proteins nearby, including the two main structural proteins of the skin, collagen and elastin. Glycation adversely affects the properties of collagen, making it more brittle and it discolors collagen and elastin, weakening them and damaging DNA so that your skin can’t regenerate itself as easily. The altered proteins normally keep your skin firm, giving you a youthful complexion, but after their disablement by AGEs you may find your skin becoming more saggy, less defined and you might notice the early appearance of wrinkles.
Dermatologist Cheryl Karcher MD, says “Number one, the glucose makes the cells abnormal; and number two, it creates free radicals. So you get a double whammy when it comes to aging.”
Of course, sugar is present in most foods, even in fruits, vegetables and grains and it cannot entirely be avoided (glycation happens after consumption of these products too, but there are fewer AGEs in natural foods). Sugar is also necessary for energy, can boost your endurance, is good for your muscles and can help you burn fat more effectively during exercise. The problem lies with refining the sugar so that it is quite far removed from its natural state, consuming sugar in processed foods and the sheer amount of sugar that we eat. Our diet and the way we live our lives has a direct impact on how severely we are affected by glycation. Highly processed foods like white bread, white rice and foods loaded with white sugar or high-frustose corn syrup spread the glycation process like oxygen spreads fire.
Will a Sugar-Free Diet Benefit Me?
Avoiding dietary AGEs has been shown in research studies to delay chronic diseases and aging in animals and possibly also in human beings. Foods with the highest amount of dietary AGEs are cookies, potato chips, crackers and other items with high sugar content like cake. They are also present in margarine, white bread rolls or bagels, cheese, eggs and other dairy products and even in meats. Following a sugar-free or reduced sugar diet may benefit you by reducing the amount of AGEs you are exposed to and therefore potentially avoiding some of the damage to your collagen and elastin, helping you to maintain a younger appearance for longer than your coffee and cake loving friend. The way you cook your food can also determine how many glycation end products are present. For instance, frying grilling or roasting your meat will produce more AGEs within the meat than if you boiled or steamed it. You can eliminate some of them by marinating the meat in lemon juice or vinegar. Beef marinated in either of these acidic solutions for one hour formed less than half the amount of AGEs compared with beef that wasn’t marinated. People who reduce or cut out their ‘junk’ foods and sweet and sugary drinks, eat less meat, cook moist heated foods (like stew) and eat lots of different vegetables could only be consuming half the AGEs that people eating a traditional ‘western’ diet. So the secret to younger looking skin is avoidance of sugar and junk foods, eating a more natural plant based diet, cooking without the use of oils, limiting meat consumption and if you want to give your skin a boost with collagen induction therapy, with un-glycated collagen, this will give you the edge compared with those using diet alone. With a few easy changes, you can get back your youthful glow.