Everybody wants healthy, glowing skin. We all want to keep those wrinkles at bay for as long as possible. Today, we are going to introduce you to a key player in skin aging and teach you how to protect your skin as you grow older.
Our skin is exposed to a multitude of insults including UV radiation, pollution, tobacco, and harsh chemicals. All of these stressors age the skin. In recent years, scientists have started to investigate Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGEs) and how they cause skin to age (ironically, even the acronym relates to aging!)
What are Advanced Glycation End-Products and Where do they Come From?
AGEs form when proteins and fats in the body are exposed to sugars and change in structure. The higher our blood sugars are, the more our proteins and fats are exposed to sugars, the higher the level of these AGEs we have. High levels of AGEs are not good for aging and really damage the skin.
We also consume AGEs in the diet. AGEs come in high levels in animal products. Animal foods high in protein and fat are prone to AGE formation when cooked at high temperatures. Most processed, prepackaged food are high in sugar and cooked at high temperature and are therefore also high in AGEs. Certain cooking methods such as using high temperatures to brown meat, grilling, frying and roasting result in high levels of AGEs in our food. In contrast vegetables, fruits whole grains and legumes on average have very low levels of AGEs. Cooking food at lower temperatures with moist heat reduces our exposure to AGEs.
What are the Health Risks of Advanced Glycation End-Products?
AGEs affect the normal functioning of cells, making them more easily damaged and susceptible to premature aging. When sugars come into contact with proteins such as collagen and elastin in our skin, they react immediately causing cross-linking, which changes the skin’s framework and affects healthy skin cell turnover. AGEs cause skin elasticity to reduce and stiffness to increase which causes the appearances of lines and wrinkles. Exposure to sugars also increases the amount of damage caused to your skin through sun exposure.
High levels of AGEs have also been linked to diabetes, dementia, cardiovascular disease and liver disease. Most chronic degenerative diseases are now linked to AGEs. If you want to age well physically as well as have great skin get your AGEs down! The body does not do well with high sugar levels and the research into AGEs show just how important a good diet is to the aging process.
So how can we keep our skin looking healthy as we age?
Avoid food high in AGEs, this includes processed food, sugary food and animal products cooked at high temperatures.
Mop up damage from AGEs in the diet and those AGEs naturally occurring in our body by including richly pigmented fruits and vegetables in your diet. A nutrient called Iridoids found in blue berries and cranberries for example has been shown to lower AGEs in the body. These little power packed gems have been shown to improve skin hydration, skin firmness and wrinkles! It is a great idea to plant blueberry plants into pots, they are super easy to grow. Within a few years you will have a bush with more berries than you can manage – best of all they won’t be sprayed with pesticides!
Green tea is also proving to be very beneficial at protecting us from AGEs ! Herbs such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves, marjoram and tarragon are also looking exciting in the research for slowing aging, so try and include these in your cooking.
Keep an eye on your blood sugars. Remember sugar we consume reacts with fats and proteins in the skin so avoid refined sugars, and keep a lid on how much natural sugar you consume by way of dates, maple syrup and honey. That ‘healthy’ raw caramel slice has just about as much sugar as a Tim Tam! Balancing blood sugars is fundamental to good health. Ensure every meal and snack contains protein and healthy fats to ‘anchor’ your blood sugars, keeping them steady. Eat a variety of protein including vegetarian sources like egg, wholegrains, legumes such as lentils and chickpeas and nuts and seeds as these have lower levels of AGEs. Healthy fats include avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds. Make sure every meal contains lots of bright coloured vegies or fruits to counter any AGEs.
When we are concerned about aging or degenerative diseases in our patients we often check their fasting blood sugars or their glycated haemoglobin which shows how well they have managed their blood sugars over the past three months. This provides a wonderful insight into their health and their aging process.
Intermittent fasting is something we also use at times with patients. Cutting down on calories has been shown to reduce AGEs in the skin. Fasting gives our cells a chance to repair and rejuvenate and improves how we handle insulin and blood sugars. When you fast, your body produces sirtuin, an anti-aging substance! Fasting protocols like the 5:2 diet are great ways to introduce intermittent calorie restriction without feeling like you are starving.
AGEs and their link to healthy skin is such an exciting concept because you determine what you eat, so you determine how you age! Take control today!
Lisa & Anna x