As human beings, we’re on a constant quest for the fountain of youth. So far we haven’t figured out how to reverse the aging process, but there are ways we can slow it down and maintain our energy, vitality and health as we approach our golden years.
We know exercise and a healthful diet can help prevent diseases and age-related complications. Now we also understand more about a chemical marker for aging that, true to this topic, is called Advanced Glycation End (AGE).
Glycation is the process by which sugar is added to proteins. Proteins drive important biochemical reactions in our bodies, and they’re the building blocks for our muscles, blood vessels and organs. Proteins also form collagen, which maintains our cartilage, bone and skin. When collagen starts breaking down, we look older as our skin starts to wrinkle, and we feel older as the cartilage wears away in our joints and causes arthritis.
When sugar, or glucose, exists in normal amounts in our bloodstream, it interacts harmlessly with life-sustaining proteins. However, when sugar levels are excessive, glucose latches onto proteins and prevents them from carrying out their normal functions.
AGEs are basically dysfunctional glucose-protein complexes that result from too much sugar in your blood. This is a direct result of the foods you eat. AGEs increase your risk of developing the following health conditions.
• Heart disease and stroke
• Type II diabetes
• Alzheimer’s disease
• Kidney disease
• High blood pressure
• Visual impairment
• Nerve damage
The bottom line is that eating too much sugar and other foods that raise glucose excessively can accelerate aging. Unfortunately, the low-fat diet craze has introduced processed sugars into virtually every type of food we consume. Foods labeled “healthful” and “low-fat” often have excessive amounts of hidden sugar that trigger AGE production.
Following are some tips on foods to avoid.
• Beware of browning foods and processed brown foods. Foods such as brown cookies and brown beans undergo a caramelizing process that increases sugars. Cooking meats at high temperature (like a broiled or well-done piece of meat) can increase AGEs as well. Try to eat fresh, unprocessed foods and cook low and slow with water whenever you can (steaming, boiling, crockpot cooking, etc.).
• Check labels and steer clear of high-fructose corn syrup.
• Avoid excess sugars, sweets and sodas.
• Watch your total overall consumption of carbohydrates. Even consuming excessive amounts of “healthful” carbs in the form of oatmeal, grains and wheat can increase sugar levels.
• Exercise regularly to increase your metabolism of sugars.
• Try to prepare fresh foods with fresh ingredients; this is the best way to cut back on your AGE intake and slow down the aging process.
Dr. Ronesh Sinha is an internal medicine physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Los Altos Center. He also provides medical consults to high-risk South Asians.
The Palo Alto Medical Foundation and editor Arian Dasmalchi provide this monthly column.