How to Prevent “AGEing”
Posted on Feb 5, 2013
Our quest for the fountain of youth is never ending. Although we can’t reverse aging, how can we slow down this process and maintain our energy, vitality and health as we approach our golden years? We all know that exercise and a healthy diet are key in preventing diseases and age-related complications, but in this blog post, I want to talk about a more specific chemical marker for aging known appropriately as “AGE.”
AGE stands for Advanced Glycation End products. Glycation is the process by which sugar is added to proteins. So, in order to understand this interaction, you need to understand proteins first. Proteins are essential for life because the enzymes which drive important biochemical reactions in our body are made up of proteins. Proteins are also the building blocks for our muscles, blood vessels, organs, and also make up collagen which maintains our cartilage, bone and skin. When proteins start breaking down, we start looking older as our skin starts to wrinkle, feeling older as the cartilage wears away in our joints leading to arthritis, and we put all our vital organs at risk.
So, now enter sugar. When sugar, a.k.a. glucose, is in normal amounts in our bloodstream, it interacts harmlessly with these life-sustaining proteins. However, when sugar levels are excessive, glucose latches onto proteins and changes their structure and function, preventing them from carrying out their normal functions. So AGEs are basically dysfunctional glucose-protein complexes that result from too much sugar in your blood, which in turn, is a direct result of the foods you eat. What are the specific conditions linked to having AGEs?
- Heart disease and stroke
- Type II diabetes
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Kidney disease
- High blood pressure
- Visual impairment
- Nerve damage
One important protein that glucose latches onto is hemoglobin – the protein that carries oxygen in our blood. In people with diabetes, we monitor glucose by measuring the glycohemoglobin, which tells us how much sugar is sticking to hemoglobin. The higher the number, the more sugar you have in your blood. Some experts state that the glycohemoglobin is an indicator of AGEs in your body, and even in non-diabetics, may indicate your future susceptibility to AGE-related conditions. You can think of diabetes as a condition of accelerated aging. I’m thinking of a 35-year-old South Asian diabetic patient who already has evidence of kidney disease, high blood pressure, and early evidence of damage to his eyes. We call these diabetic complications, but in fact, most diabetic complications are conditions that we would normally go on to develop much later in life. Did I also mention that makes a 35-year-old look like he’s 45? Many of my diabetic and pre-diabetic patients truly look much older than their age. So, what I’m telling you is eating too much sugar and foods that raise glucose excessively can actually accelerate the aging process!
What foods put you at risk for accelerated aging due to AGEs?
- Beware of browning foods and brown foods: I know, you’ve been told brown foods are healthier, right? Not always the case. Many processed foods such as brown cookies, brown bread crust, and brown beans undergo a caramelization process when proteins and sugars are combined in the absence of water. It makes food more flavorful, but unfortunately increases AGEs. Cooking meats at high temperature like a broiled or well done piece of meat with that nice crust would have the same effect. Browning vegetables, grains and fruits would also increase AGEs. So eat fresh, unprocessed foods and cook low and slow with water whenever you can (steaming, boiling, Crockpot cooking, etc.)
- Avoid high fructose corn syrup: Read all food labels for this
- Avoid excess sugars, sweets and sodas
- Watch your total overall consumption of carbohydrates: Even consuming excessive amounts of “healthy carbs” in the form of oatmeal, grains and wheat can cause sugar to increase, which not only leads to increased AGEs, but also excess weight
- Exercise regularly: Exercise helps increase the metabolism of sugars and reduces AGEs
Unfortunately, as a result of the low-fat diet craze, we now have a food industry that has incorporated sugar into virtually every type of food we consume. Foods that are labeled as “healthy” and “low-fat” often have excessive amounts of hidden sugar that trigger the production of AGEs. As always, try to home prepare fresh foods with fresh ingredients, which is the best way to cut back on your intake of AGEs and slow down aging.
This blog post is contributed by Ronesh (Ron) Sinha, M.D., Palo Alto Medical Foundation Internal Medicine. Dr. Sinha works closely with the South Asian community to help reduce heart disease and diabetes risk, and provides corporate health lectures to promote wellness in the workplace. Dr. Sinha holds clinical faculty positions at UCLA; Stanford University School of Medicine; and the UCSF School of Medicine. He teaches Stanford and UCSF medical students.