What is glycation? In short glycation is a scientific term for what happens when sugars, such as fructose or glucose, combine with proteins or lipid molecules. Additionally, glycation is the process bakers and cooks refer to as browning. You may be shocked to learn that this browning actually happens to us as we age. From an anti-aging perspective this is not a good thing.
With this information it is easy to see that we have two forms of glycation that we need to be concerned about. We have Endogenous glycations, which predominately occur in the bloodstream and exogenous glycations that occur out side the body.
Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs) are formed when sugars are cooked with proteins and fats. What you may not realize is that very often sugars are added to many of our foods specifically to enhance this browning effect. Worse yet once absorbed by your body AGEs are well known pro-inflammatory and disease initiating compounds. AGEs have been implicated in many age-related chronic diseases such as: Type II Diabetes, Cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Cancer, Neuropathy and the list goes on.
Did I mention that Glycation and AGEs have a very important partner in the damage of our tissues? That partner in the initiation and acceleration of these diseases, especially oxidative stress and inflammation, are the free radicals that we are learning so much about. To make matters worse glycated proteins are estimated to generate 50 times more free radicals than non-glycated proteins. Again, from an anti-aging standpoint this is something of great importance.
By now I hope that you are starting to get the idea that our bodies were not designed to handle the simple sugars that find their way into our diets. In short, at the cellular and DNA levels, sugars are a disaster waiting to happen. Do you find yourself, struggling against fatigue? More times than not, that fatigue is self induced by virtue of the fact that sugar raises blood glucose levels so fast that the body has to respond by secreting large amounts of insulin. This cycle creates a huge spike in energy quickly followed by extreme fatigue. Think about most of the energy drinks on the market today where caffeine and sugars are the most prominent ingredients. Watch for an upcoming article on energy drinks.
Ok, I’ve dumped a lot on you in a very short amount of time. In a perfect world we could totally eliminate sugars from our diet. While I know that this is not very practical, I will please with you to do everything in your power to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet. Keep in mind that by some estimates the average American consumes roughly 24 teaspoons of sugar daily. Those 24 teaspoons per day equates to more than 100 pounds of sugar in a year.
So first and foremost reduce the simple sugars in your diet. Secondly, reduce and/or eliminate AGE laden foods by limiting browned or charred foods. A short list of some of those foods include: well done meats, poultry, eggs, barbecued or grilled meats, poultry and fish. One of the worst is deep fried foods. As I stated this is a VERY short list.
Lastly, for some good news. Scientists have discovered that alpha lipoic acid can arrest the glycation process. Additionally, it has been discovered that N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) slows the glycation process. As an added benefit scientists discovered that lipoic acid aids in the restoring of glutathione and vitamin C. As you may imagine the flavanoids found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains have been found to reduce the glycation of hemoglobin.
In conclusion, while glycation, AGEs and their partner in crime, free radicals, lead to the initiation of many of our age related diseases we have the ability to avoid being plagued by these problems. In fact it is really more than a choice on our part. If you have watched anyone in their later years and thought to yourself that you wanted a different path: you have that option. The downside to that choice is that it is not about making that decision for a single day. What you have to commit yourself to is a lifestyle change. That change includes: the reduction of simple sugars, over cooked foods especially deep fried foods and then ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of antioxidants, nutrients and flavanoids in your diet. While not always easy to get through our daily diets, with the abundance of high quality supplements, green drinks and other whole food sources, we have the tools we necessary to live a long healthy life.
1) Stephen Cherniske, The Metabolic Plan, 2003, pg 79-86
2) Ahmed N, Furth AJ. Failure of common glycation assays to detect glycation by fructose. Clin Chem 1992;38:1301-3 PMID 1623595.
3) McPherson JD, Shilton BH, Walton DJ. Role of fructose in glycation and cross-linking of proteins. Biochemistry 1988;27:1901-7. PMID 3132203.
4) WikiPedia Website: Glycation
5) WikiPedia Website: Advanced_glycation_endproduct