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Saying no to a doughnut with your morning coffee may do just as much for your wrinkles as your figure!

Glycation or sugar damage is right up there with smoking, sun exposure and alcohol consumption as a major factor in accelerated skin aging.

Of course we all need glucose as an energy source – it’s a vital fuel for our bodies. The problem is the amount of added sugar we eat and the damage it can do.

When we eat simple sugars and starches like white processed bread the effect on the body is an outburst of inflammation. Eating simple carbohydrates with a high Glycemic Index also cause blood glucose levels to spike and crash.

Internally sugar molecules attach themselves to protein fibers in each of our cells and it is this damaging process that is known as glycation.

The end products of glycation – or Advanced Glycation End products in the jargon – are known as AGE for short. As it happens AGE is exactly what they do to our bodies and our looks.

“Glycation makes you older faster, and makes the skin look just plain awful …it accounts for accelerated aging, yellowing and stiffness of the skin, and decreased circulation.”Peter T. Pugliese MD, skin expert and biomedical consultant

Twenty to thirty years ago scientists knew very little about the role of AGE in causing debilitating disease and stepping up the aging process. As a result of observing accelerated aging in people with diabetes – doctors came to understand the negative effects of sugar on our health. Inflammation caused by glycation is now known to be associated with many serious diseases including Alzheimer’s, cancer, vein problems and heart conditions.

In the last decade skin experts like Dr Brandt and Dr Perricone have linked skin aging to glycation and specifically AGEs and have led the way in producing anti aging products to overcome its effects. Whilst the role of AGEs in life threatening conditions like cancer is a major concern none of us wants to look older than we are. In fact skin is particularly at risk from glycation. One of the proteins most prone to damage from sugar molecules is collagen – the skins essential support structure.

“Eating sugary and starchy foods shows up on the skin as a loss of radiance, dark circles under the eyes, the loss of tone, puffiness, an increase in fine lines and wrinkles, the loss of facial contours and increased pore size. These foods can also exacerbate acne, which is a systemic, inflammatory disease. I am not exaggerating when I say that sugar can rob you of your youth, health, and beauty.” Dr Nicholas Perricone

AGEs effect healthy skin in two main ways – first off they reduce the power of collagen to rebuild the skin’s structure and second they increase the rate at which collagen breaks down naturally. Since collagen breakdown is increased with age anyway – glycation effects our skin more as we age. The result is a greater increase in wrinkling, and crepey skin. Glycation also robs the skin of its natural moisturizer -hyaluronic acid – resulting in greater dryness and sagging. Glycation also makes the effects of smoking, alcohol and sun damage much worse.

So – if we know that eating sugar causes wrinkles, one of the best thing you can do for your skin is stay off sugary foods and refined carbs wherever possible. Alarmingly, in recent years there has been a huge increase in sugar consumption especially in America. You may not realize the levels of sugar you consume since so much processed foods like breakfast cereals, cookies, soft drinks, brand name breads and ready made meals have large amounts of added sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Alarmingly – fructose increases the rate of glycation by ten times compared to glucose.

The way in which your food is cooked matters too – high temperature cooking, broiling or barbecuing creates more AGEs. Whilst you can limit this form of cooking in your own kitchen and eat this way in moderate amounts – processed food is another matter. Much food processing involves subjecting food to high temperatures and pressure extrusion which promotes the formation of those damaging glycation end products – AGEs.

The best advice is to follow the kind of diet suggested by The American Heart Association based on a good variety of low GI foods – fresh fruits, vegetables, lean non-processed meat and whole foods like grains. Go for slow cooking methods like soups and stews and eat as many uncooked foods like delicious salads and dips as possible.

And stay off the Krispy Kremes if you really want to reduce the sugar damage!