When you take a cow hide and tan it, you stiffen the skin into usable leather. A similar process occurs when we have too much sugar in our bloodstream…we “cook” our internal organs and accelerate the aging process. Overcooked foods contain advanced glycation end products (AGES) that cause havoc throughout the body. In this article, I would like to share with you some ideas on slowing the aging process through control of blood and gut glucose levels.
Exposure to high amounts of sugar within the body leads to a hazardous process known as glycation. This unregulated binding of sugar molecules with protein molecules accelerates aging and increases the risk of various age-related diseases including Alzheimer’s, arthritis and cardiovascular conditions. But why does glycation happen, and what are its effects in the body?
What is Glycation?
Glycation involves the combination of sugar molecules with protein, fat or nucleic acid molecules without regulation by an enzyme. The process is also known as non-enzymatic glycosylation. It should, however, not be confused with glycosylation, which is an organized, enzyme regulated process in which specific sugar molecules combine with specific proteins as part of metabolic functions.
On its part, glycation is a disorganized and opportunistic process that ends up interfering with other functions within and outside the cells. As a result, glycation leads to disruptive reactions that damage body tissues and organs through oxidation and inflammation. Additionally, because the body takes a long time to get rid of the resultant AGEs, their continued presence and the accompanying reactions lead to many hazards in the body.
Slow the Physical and Mental Aging Process
In most cases, glycation occurs within the bloodstream when the blood contains high levels of sugar over long periods of time. The sugar molecules bind with the proteins within the walls of blood vessels. The AGEs so formed are transported in the blood stream to various parts of the body where they accumulate, causing inflammation and oxidation. Glycation also occurs outside the body when food (especially protein) is cooked at high temperatures. This leads to chemical reactions between the proteins and sugars which makes the proteins useless to the body.
Effects of Glycation in the Body
Glycation interferes with the stability and functioning of the proteins that are bound to sugars so that they are no longer beneficial to the body. The resultant AGEs molecules are a burden and a danger to the body. Recent research associates glycation with various age-related health conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular problems, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney problems, neurological diseases, joint diseases and aging in general.
Foods that Cause Glycation
While some level of glycation is always happening within the body, regular consumption of some types of food is known to increase glycation. Such foods should therefore be avoided or reduced from the diet. These include sugar-rich foods like refined sugar, sugary cereals, cookies, ice-cream, soda and other foods which are easily converted to glucose after digestion. Foods that are overcooked, or cooked at a high temperature contain these dangerous AGES. Hence, barbecuing or deep frying food creates more nasty AGES than steaming food.
Advanced nations eat too much, too often, and the wrong foods. We have discussed the “too much” and “wrong foods”. Let’s look at “too often”. Our bodies are built to withstand frequent inadvertent fasting. Instead we eat all the time. This constant onslaught of sugar and insulin in the bloodstream leads to insulin resistance, which leads to high levels of both glucose and insulin. This creates the glycation process and we age rapidly. Stop eating…just for a day a week and watch your health improve.
Hazards of Glycation in the Body
While glycation does not cause diabetes, it is a contributing factor to the many complications associated with diabetes. It is worth noting that the presence of elevated levels of sugar in the bloodstream of an undiagnosed diabetic or a person with uncontrolled diabetes leads to high levels of glycation. The increased risk of glycation in diabetics is also believed to accelerate physical aging. This is in addition to the increased risks of other conditions like cardiovascular diseases, kidney disease and joint problems.
When the inflammation and oxidation causing AGEs accumulate within joints, they cause damage to joint tissues such as cartilage. This affects the flexibility and stress handling abilities of these tissues which interferes with their functions. Researchers now believe that AGEs are an important cause of osteoarthritis.
A lot of glycation occurs in the blood stream where sugar molecules bind to proteins in the walls of blood vessels. Glycation also interferes with the bioactivity of low density lipoprotein (LDL), slowing down degradation of LDL. These activities progressively cause inflammation of the blood vessels, leading to stiffening and increasing the risk of atherosclerosis.
4. Kidney disease and kidney failure
Glycation results with advanced glycation end products which are deposited in various parts of the body. By virtue of their filtering function, kidneys get a large amount of AGEs. But because AGEs are difficult to degrade, their excretion is very slow and they therefore end up accumulating in the kidneys. Accumulation of AGEs in the kidneys slows down the filtration function of the kidneys and over time leads to kidney problems including renal failure.
5. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
When proteins bond with sugar, they are rendered dysfunctional. The AGEs molecules therefore float around within the body and are deposited in different in cells and tissues in different parts of the body. When this affects brain cells such as neurons, it makes an increasing number of the brain cells to become dysfunctional or die. As this progresses, brain functions are increasingly compromised which leads to neurodegenerative problems like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
6. Skin wrinkles
The most common sign of aging is skin wrinkling. Turns out that the products that results from the process of glycation – aptly called AGEs – are associated with skin wrinkling and indeed, aging.
When glycation affects skin, as it surely does, it brings with it its debilitating effects which include oxidative stress and inflammation. These affect elasticin and collagen, which are responsible for the suppleness and smooth complexion of healthy skin. As a result, the skin gets wrinkles, becomes saggy and is not as flexible as it used to be. These are some of the well known signs of aging.
Additionally, glycation increases the skin’s sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation which increases oxidative stress, damaging DNA and increasing the risk of development of skin cancer.
7. Spinal hernia
When AGEs accumulate in the spinal disks, they lead to disk injury and may lead to slipped disks (hernia).
8. Eye damage
As with other tissues and organs, when glycated molecules accumulate within the eyes, they lead to the development of cataracts and retina damage. Damage to these parts of the eyes impairs vision and may ultimately lead to blindness.
9. Accelerates aging and death
Glycation leads to a rise in AGEs – which perfectly describe the overriding role that they play in the body – aging. It is no wonder that glycation and AGEs are linked to the well known age-related diseases including diabetes type 2, cardiovascular problems, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Accumulation of AGEs in the cells and tissues of the body reduces the efficiency of their functionality. And because glycation happens even within cells, it accelerates the aging process by interfering with various functions including metabolism. This progressive slowing down of the body functions interferes with general health leading to age-related diseases which ultimately cause age-related fatalities.
While some level of glycation takes place in the body all the time, having a diet that is too sugary, fast foods and foods that easily break down into glucose, causes excess glycation. This leads to the above hazards of glycation in the body which accelerate aging. Remember, you can slow the physical and mental aging process over time.