Is sugar making us age faster?

Tick-tock. Ageing is a natural part of life, and it affects the human being. But what we eat and drink can speed up the process. It is said that sugar speeds up ageing. Is it true? Yes, that is the short answer. Sugar makes us age faster, both on the inside and outside. We see it most clearly on our skin. And what happens to the skin also happens in the body.

13 December 2019 •

For many, sug­ar is a kick in every­day life. The cof­fee break at three o’clock is often a sav­iour in dis­tress. A bis­cuit to the cof­fee and… Ting-a-ling! We feel good again. The sug­ar goes quick­ly into the blood­stream, and you can con­cen­trate bet­ter — but not for long. Insulin increas­es and your blood sug­ar is sink­ing. In a short amount of time you are hun­gry again, tired and crav­ing anoth­er biscuit.

But the sug­ar kicks wear on the body, and it ages it both exter­nal­ly and internally.

The skin ages

The skin reveals what is hap­pen­ing inside our bodies.

The nat­ur­al age­ing process is seen on the skin as ear­ly as 25 to 30. The process is high­ly per­son­al — some get the signs soon­er, oth­ers lat­er. But the first vis­i­ble signs of age­ing are small lines around the eyes. The lines run­ning from the nose down to the cor­ners of the mouth, so-called nasolabi­al folds, become deeper.

What hap­pens is that the metab­o­lism of the skin begins to decline. The mito­sis, which before ensured that the skin was soft and smooth, slows down. The sub­stances that give the skin its tight­ness, such as the pro­tein col­la­gen, are not pro­duced at the same rate. The con­nec­tive tis­sue becomes weak­er, and the fat pro­duc­tion decreas­es on the skin sur­face. The skin los­es vol­ume and den­si­ty, and the elas­tic­i­ty changes and changes in pig­men­ta­tion can occur. We get wrin­kles and thin­ner, dri­er skin.

This is why sugar speed up the ageing process

Ageing skin is a nat­ur­al part of life. A large part of the age­ing process is genet­i­cal­ly con­di­tioned; if your par­ents have few wrin­kles, chances are you will age just as sub­tly — and vice ver­sa. This is facts we can­not control.

However, we can influ­ence some exter­nal fac­tors to con­trol the skin’s age­ing process. What we should do, as far as pos­si­ble, accord­ing to more stud­ies, is to avoid so-called advanced gly­ca­tion end-prod­ucts, (AGEs). Simply described, these are chem­i­cal com­pounds, formed between pro­teins and excess sug­ar in the body.

We pri­mar­i­ly get AGEs via food and drink. Often through prod­ucts sweet­ened with sugar.

AGEs cause us to age faster

The prob­lem is that the body can­not metab­o­lize these com­pounds and omit they become harm­ful. Some of these sub­stances are secret­ed via the kid­neys. Still, a high pro­por­tion stays, stored in the body’s tis­sues and accu­mu­late over time.

It is one of the pri­ma­ry caus­es of pre­ma­ture skin age­ing. In the skin, AGEs cause a pre­ma­ture cross-link­ing of col­la­gen, the sub­stance that helps the skin sup­ple. The cross-link­ing makes the skin’s con­nec­tive tis­sue less elastic.

This means: The more sug­ar we eat, the faster our skin ages.

Causes more problems

When AGEs are men­tioned, sug­ar is often point­ed out as the biggest cul­prit. But there are also AGEs in some cooked foods. Grilled, hard-fried and roast­ed foods belong to the bad ones.

The stor­age of AGEs in the body is also linked to the lifestyle. The lev­els are affect­ed by insom­nia, stress, smok­ing, alco­hol intake, seden­tary and too much sun exposure.

All of this is known to affect the skin. But the signs on the skin, our largest organ, gives a sig­nal on what is hap­pen­ing inside the body. An increas­ing num­ber of stud­ies point to the fact that AGEs may be a rea­son behind health prob­lems such as dia­betes and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. They are also sus­pect­ed to be the cause of mem­o­ry prob­lems, diges­tive, kid­ney and liv­er prob­lems and poor vision.

You can reverse the effect

However, it is pos­si­ble to cut the stor­age of AGEs in the body and take down the risk of dis­ease and pre­ma­ture age­ing. It might also be pos­si­ble to reverse some of the vis­i­ble skin changes asso­ci­at­ed with sug­ar intake.

What we can do is to check what we eat and do the same with our lifestyle in gen­er­al. Researchers in the field empha­size that added sug­ar should be exclud­ed from the diet to cut the risk of chron­ic dis­eases. And it is nev­er too late to start reduc­ing sug­ar in the diet.

Food producers can also turn around

As a food pro­duc­er, it is not too late to reduce sug­ar in your prod­ucts. Candy, cook­ies, pas­tries, choco­late and ice cream are clas­sic sug­ar bombs. And the biggest of them all is soft drinks. Consumers of today are more aware of the effects of added sug­ar — and they are look­ing for new alter­na­tives to sweetening.

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