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Sugar & Aging


Sugar in all of its forms (corn syrup, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) is extremely damaging to the skin--and in fact to all organ systems. And so yes, enjoy that yogurt-a very healthy food—but eat it plain or add fresh fruit—the sweetened varieties sabotage a healthy lifestyle. Here's why:

Sugar suppresses the activity of our white blood cells. This makes us more susceptible to infectious disease (colds, flu and so forth) as well as cancer. The same dysfunction of the white blood cells can also make allergies worse.

Collagen's Natural Enemy
As a dermatologist, I know that wrinkles, deep lines and sagging skin are a partial by-product of the process known as glycation. Sugar and other high-glycemic carbohydrates (breads, starches, potatoes, baked goods, pastas, desserts, soda) are rapidly converted to glucose in your bloodstream. This overload can cause a reaction called glycation, in which the excess sugar molecules attach themselves to collagen fibers. Glycation occurs when a glucose (sugar) molecule binds to a protein molecule without the influence of enzymes, (proteins that accelerate the rate of chemical reactions). In scientific terms, we refer to these sugar/protein bondings as AGEs, an appropriate acronym for advanced glycosylation end products. This causes them to lose their strength and flexibility, so the skin becomes less elastic and more vulnerable to sun damage, lines, and sagging.

Not Just Skin Deep
And while wrinkled skin is one of the visible appearances of AGEs, most degenerative diseases are affected in one way or another by disease-producing glycation reactions. These reactions result in major damage to the body, including arterial stiffening, atherosclerosis, the formation of cataracts, neurological impairment, diabetic complications, wrinkled, sagging skin, and more. In fact, AGEs lie at the very heart of the aging process across all specialties from the skin to the brain. AGEs can be responsible for wrinkles, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and much more, including the age-related memory loss and even Alzheimer's disease.

Simply put, the formation of AGEs is responsible for serious damage to the body, both internally and externally. And sugar is a major culprit.

The Glycation Fighter: Alpha Lipoic Acid
We also have a number of highly effective topical anti-glycation treatments for skin. Alpha lipoic acid (ALA), a very powerful nutrient when taken as a supplement, is also important as a topical treatment. It is highly recommended as a nutritional supplement because it has powerful anti-glycating effects and is an extremely important anti-inflammatory.

Alpha lipoic acid increases the cell's ability to take up glucose for metabolism. This removes it from the blood, thereby helping to prevent damaging glycation reactions. Because it is both fat and water soluble, it can reach all portions of the cell, providing complete protection. This is true whether it is taken as a supplement or used as a topical. ALA's fat solubility allows it to penetrate into the skin where it can wield its anti-inflammatory power to great benefit. It protects the cells from free radical damage and halts the initiation of skin-damaging inflammatory cascade.

What About Sweeteners?
My patients often ask me is eating sugar and other forms of sweeteners can contribute to acne and the answer is yes. When our blood sugar and insulin levels rise, whether from a poor diet (sugary, starchy foods) or from stress, we experience a serious increase in inflammatory chemicals at a cellular level. This causes inflammatory diseases such as acne to worsen dramatically. Cortisol and other adrenal steroids can act as androgens (male hormones) and stimulate the sebaceous (oil) glands resulting in a flare-up of acne.

If you are concerned about your health, and not accelerating the aging process, it is best to avoid all forms of refined sugar as well as chemical artificial sweeteners. There are natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables that should be our only source of sugar. These foods are high in anti-inflammatory anti-oxidants, help stabilize blood sugar, and nutrients that promote beautiful skin and a healthy body.

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