Sugar “Ages” The Skin

We often concentrate our efforts to achieve beautiful skin on external treatments: topical beauty serums, laser treatments, facials, makeup, etc. But equally important is the internal treatment of the skin – metabolic processes that either damage or protect the skin.  We have more control over our internal cellular milieu than some people might think – namely through diet, stress, sleep, and exercise.  Yes, LIFESTYLE factors!

One process that everybody should become aware of is glycation.  Glycation happens when there is high glucose (sugar) in our blood stream.  The sugar molecules attach themselves to the proteins and fats in our cells and tissues causing all kinds of damage. Sugar molecules attached to proteins are called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). The body tries to protect itself by creating inflammation.  However, if inflammation is ongoing, the organs and tissues are rendered less effective in their functioning and symptoms typical of the aging process occur.

In a non-diabetic person, blood glucose (or sugar) rises after carbohydrates are ingested, especially simple carbohydrates like sugar, white rice, white flour/bread, pasta, etc.  Also many fruits can cause a rapid increase in blood sugar. While the body is waiting for insulin to escort the sugar into the cells for energy or storage, the circulating sugars quickly adhere to cells and tissues causing quick oxidative damage.

In the skin sugar attaches itself to collagen and elastin – the two most prominent proteins found in the skin and also the proteins responsible for the structural integrity of the skin. Collagen and elastin give skin it’s plump, smooth, supple appearance.  With the breakdown of collagen comes wrinkles, dryness, and sagging skin.  Once AGEs are formed in the skin the collagen loses its functionality and becomes dry and brittle. Then the skin loses its luster and springiness – an all-too-familiar sign of aging.

Imagine the aging process in the skin and apply it to other tissues like the blood vessels, the brain, the joints, the eyes, etc. Conditions like hardening of the arteries, cognitive changes, arthritis, and cataracts are linked to AGE damage.  The entire body experiences more rapid aging when exposed to elevated sugar on a regular basis.

So what can we do to keep ourselves looking, feeling, and functioning healthily?  When it comes to reducing the formation of AGEs and avoiding the damage that they cause to tissues including the skin, the best and easiest course of action is to severely limit the amount of carbohydrates we consume, in particular refined grains and starches and simple sugars of all kinds (white sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, corn syrup, etc.).  The next important thing is to increase our intake of antioxidant foods and supplements.  Antioxidants help to protect our tissues from the damaging AGEs by neutralizing their oxidation activity. Also getting plenty of good sleep, minimizing our response to stress, and participating in regular exercise all help to keep the body’s defense and detox systems working optimally, which in turn lead to better looking skin and a healthier you!