What’s in a name? In this case…everything.
Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) will in fact speed up the aging process. But that’s not all they’ll do.
AGEs have been directly linked to the cornerstones of chronic disease— inflammation and insulin resistance—and are also implicated in the development and progression of diabetes, vascular and kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
AGEs are the end-products of glycation reactions—the scientific term for a sugar molecule binding to a protein or a lipid.
AGEs can come into the body through the foods we eat (called exogenous AGEs) or can be produced by our metabolism of foods (called endogenous AGEs).
Either way, we have the power to avoid them.
How Do You Get AGEs?
Exogenous AGEs come pre-packaged. They are in the brown sauce of a microwaved meat meal, the caramel hue of a cola and the crisp shell of a crème brulee. They are preformed and all have something in common—they’re brown.
This “browning” reaction (called the Maillard reaction in chemistry) is what causes caramelization. And caramelization is the visible effect of a sugar molecule attaching itself to a protein and creating an AGE.
Endogenous AGEs, on the other hand, are manufactured by the body’s metabolic processes. But to create these aging compounds, the body requires one specific ingredient. Sugar!
And when it comes to the type of sugar, the rule is this: A sugar molecule is a sugar molecule. So whether it be from a delicious, nutrient-packed apple or an artificially-flavored jelly bean, eating sugar flips the switch to the “on” position of the body’s AGE process. (Learn about the dangers of fruit here)
Once that switch is flipped—either by the body’s processing of sugar (and therefore creating its own glycation reactions) or though the diet by eating foods that have undergone the “browning reaction”—the body initiates what is regarded as the cornerstone of chronic disease…
But the destructive reaction doesn’t stop there. Not only do AGEs set the wheel in motion, they also push it along.
Many cells in the body (like endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells and immune cells) from tissue such as lung, liver, kidney or peripheral tissues bear the Receptor for Advanced Glycation End products (RAGE).
When these receptors bind AGEs, they contribute to age and diabetes-related chronic inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis, asthma, arthritis, myocardial infarction, nephropathy, retinopathy or neuropathy.
How Advanced Glycation Endproducts Harm Your Health
Let’s look at the research of how AGEs impact health:
- AGEs Increase Inflammation: A recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation found that higher consumption of foods rich in AGEs equated to higher the blood levels of AGEs…and higher levels of CRP and other markers of inflammation
- AGE Damage is Proportional to Sugar Intake: Researchers have found that most AGE-related damage in the body is directly proportional to sugar intake. Therefore, reduce sugar, reduce AGEs.
- AGEs Promote Alzheimer’s: The amyloid proteins that are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease are by-products of the reactions which progress to AGEs
- AGEs Are Slow to Go: Glycated substances are eliminated from the body very slowly. In fact, their clearance factor is only about 30%. This means that the half-life of an AGE in the body is about double the average cell life. Because of this, long-lived cells (like nerves and brain cells), long-lasting proteins (like eye crystalline and collagen) as well as DNA accumulate this damage over time. Metabolically active cells—including the glomeruli in the kidneys, the retinal cells in the eye and the beta cells of the pancreas (which produce insulin) are also at high risk of damage by AGEs
- AGEs Promote Wrinkles: Dr. Nicholas Perricone, M.D. and author of The Perricone Prescription, believes that about 50% of skin aging is due to the glycation process. Besides damaging collagen, sugar also affects what type of collagen you have. The most abundant collagens in the skin are type I, II and III. And of these, type III is the most stable and long lasting. But glycation transforms type III collagen into the more-fragile type I, leaving you with skin that’s less supple and more wrinkle-prone.
- AGEs Cause Cardiovascular Damage: There are several ways AGEs damage the cardiovascular system:
- The endothelial cells of the blood vessels are directly damaged by glycation reactions.
- Atherosclerotic plaque tends to accumulate are areas of high blood flow (i.e– entrance to the coronary arteries) due to increased presentation of sugar molecules and AGEs at these points.
- Damage by glycation causes stiffening of the collagen in the blood vessel walls, which narrows the vessels and leads to high blood pressure.
- Glycation weakens collagen in the blood vessels walls (and everywhere else!), which may lead to micro– or macro aneurisms; if in the brain, the result may be a stroke.
How to Reduce Advanced Glycation Endproducts
Reducing the sugar in your diet is the #1 way to fight glycation.That warrants repeating: reduce the sugar in your diet to reduce glycation.
And unlike other so-called “healthy” cooking sites (ahem… Cooking Light and Prevention) here at Healing Gourmet all of our recipes are low glycemic. Plus, you can track every gram of sugar (plus 20 more nutrients) in each recipe, menu, and packaged food we showcase.
Here are the simple steps you can take to reduce glycation
- Stick to a Low Glycemic Diet: At Healing Gourmet it’s easy – all of our recipes and menus are low glycemic to help keep your blood sugar levels stable, to fight AGEing and disease.
- Sweeten Safely: Use organic or non-GMO erythritol and stevia to satisfy your sweet tooth safely without the risk of producing AGEs. These sweeteners have a glycemic index of zero and do not undergo the “browning” reaction we discussed earlier.
- If it’s Brown, Turn it Down: Say “no thanks” to highly-caramelized foods—especially prepacked ready meals—as they have been found to contain high levels of AGEs.
- Indulge Wisely: When the craving strikes, satisfy with a dessert that contains no more than 10 grams of sugar. You can find lots of delicious sweet recipes on our website. For healthy desserts fast, try Wellness Bakeries low-glycemic, low-sugar mixes you bake right at home.
- Get Your B’s: Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin B6 have recently been found to act as potent inhibitors of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Aim for 1 mg per day of each.