So your diet doesn’t affect your skin? Think again, especially if you have a sweet tooth and consume too much sugar. We’re all too aware that if we indulge in cakes, pies, and other sweets, we can expect extra centimetres around our waists and extra kilos on the scales.
But did you know that a sugar-rich diet accelerates skin ageing. Eat the wrong foods and you can expect wrinkles to appear earlier and for those wrinkles to deepen and worsen than if you eat a better diet.
Why does this happen? Well, excess sugar in the bloodstream encourages a process called “glycation” and glycation ages your skin. So here are the facts on glycation, and what you can do to keep your skin looking young without always having to deprive yourself.
When you eat carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into sugars like glucose and fructose. It then uses these sugars to fuel everything that you do. And if you eat highly sweetened foods, your body doesn’t even need to break the carbohydrates down into sugars; you get a hit of free sugars without the need to process them!
When you consume sugary or high-glycemic foods, the sugars react with proteins and fats in an abnormal way. Sugar molecules permanently bond to proteins, including the collagen in your skin, a process known as glycation. Glycation produces harmful molecules called Advanced Glycation Endproducts, appropriately referred to by the acronym AGEs.
The more AGEs your have in your body, the more you age. Scientists have discovered this through study of diabetics. The key here is blood sugar; the higher the level of glucose in your blood, the more AGEs are present. Diabetics have the most difficult time of anyone controlling their blood sugar and scientists have found that as a result, they tend to age faster than those without high blood sugar.
AGEs affect your key skin proteins; collagen, which gives skin its firmness) and elastin, which helps it bounce back after being stretched. The resulting damage makes your skin’s surface feel stiff and inflexible, giving it a tougher texture with more wrinkles.
But it doesn’t end with your skin. AGEs form “crosslinks” between proteins, changing their structure and function so much that they can cause things like retinopathy, nerve pain, atherosclerosis, and more.
The visible effects on your skin from AGE formation include:
Non-visible effects can include inflammation and, worse still tumours.
A 2013 study that really brought the visible effects of sugars home. Researchers photographed and tested the blood sugar levels in about 600 participants—men and women aged between 50 and 70. Then they showed pictures of the participants to another group of people who had never seen them before. They asked this new group to guess the age of the people in the photographs.
The results: those with higher blood sugar levels were rated as older than those with lower levels. For every 1 mm/litre increase in blood sugar, the perceived age was increased by five months! The researchers noted that even among non-diabetic participants, “higher glucose levels are associated with a higher perceived age.”
We know that the more glucose we have in our bloodstream, the more likely we are to be producing AGEs. And the more AGEs we produce, the more our skin will age. But what can we do about it?
Fortunately, there’s a lot that we can do! Here are our top ten tips to help you keep your skin looking smooth and glowing even as you get older.
Blood sugar spikes can affect the condition of your skin, so try to maintain a steady level. Fuel your body with low-glycemic foods and eat every three to four hours. Drinking camel milk can have a positive effect on blood sugar levels, not least because the average litre of camel milk contains 52 units of a an insulin type protein
Next time you feel a craving for that powdered donut, look in the mirror. Is it worth new wrinkles? This may help you choose a piece of fruit or cup of unsweetened yogurt instead!
Over-processed foods, like white bread, white rice and pasta break down quickly in the body, spiking blood sugar levels. These are foods that rate high on the glycemic index. Choose foods on the lower end that take longer to break down, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels and keep you satisfied. Build your diet around lean meats, eggs, vegetables; healthy grains like barley, quinoa and rolled oats; yogurt; and low-glycemic fruits like berries, plums and apricots. And camel milk!
Whenever you see that blackened meat, you are looking at AGEs, so be careful with barbecued food. If you eat charred meats, you are adding AGEs to those that your body is making. Consider enjoying food not so well done, and cook meats low and slow.
It shouldn’t need saying that you need to protect our sun from the Australian sun. UV exposure increases the formation of AGEs. Protect your skin from the sun, always! Glycation affects all of your skin, not just your face, so protect hands, neck, arms, and legs, too, whenever they’re exposed.
Research has found that excessive weight or waist size can increase the formation of AGEs.
Muscles consume glucose, so the more muscle you have, the more glucose your body will take up. As we age, we naturally lose muscle. Reduction in muscle mass can increase blood sugar levels, leading to increased AGEs.
Regular weight training can help counteract the effects of age related reduction of muscle mass, leaving your body more able to consume glucose.
Of course, alcohol is made from sugars, the root cause of AGEs. But alcohol itself enhances glycation stress. But its hard to give up; so many of us like a drink! Just be wary of sweetened mixed drinks; the double whammy of a high sugar content and enhancing effect of alcohol on glycation stress just stacks up the AGEs.
All fruits and veggies, as well as things like dark chocolate and tea, have powerful antioxidants that help protect cells from glycation. Getting a regular supply of these in your diet helps to save your skin from the effects of AGEs. Camel milk, with its highly bio-available Vitamin C content is a powerful anti-oxidant too.
Studies have found that vitamins B1 and B6 help inhibit the formation of AGEs, so avoid a Vitamin B deficiency.
Many whole grains are good sources of Vitamin B1, thiamin. Most protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes , nuts, seeds, and soy products. Good food sources of vitamin B6 include brewer’s yeast, bananas, cereal grains, legumes, vegetables, especially carrots, spinach and peas, potatoes, milk, cheese, eggs, fish and sunflower seeds.
If you adjust your diet to minimise the production of AGEs, you should get enough B1 and B6 naturally to inhibit production of AGEs without taking supplements.
Given that we are a skincare brand and this is a skincare blog, it should come as no surprise that you can help reduce the effects of AGEs on your skin by adopting an anti-ageing skincare regime.
Look for skincare products which contain fatty acids, rely on retinoids, look for products that contain peptides and be sunscreen savvy. For more read our blog post, How to Build an Anti-Ageing Strategy.