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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