A.G.E. and Aging Prevention
Sugar is both a necessity and a hazard to your life.
Glucose is the major sugar that we concern ourselves with when we consider human metabolism, but there are others present in the mix. I presented the benefits of ketones in a previous post. As a dominant fuel source they offer many benefits, but there is still a requirement for glucose, even in the fat adapted, ketogenic metabolism. We cannot completely escape from glucose!
It is well established that diabetics have a higher incidence of many serious diseases. These include: cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, stroke and blindness. All of these conditions are considered to be complications of diabetes, however, they also occur in non-diabetic people as they age.
Glycation is the Problem
Sugar “sticks” in places where it does not belong. In the human body this process is known as glycation. It is a degenerative process. Much evidence now supports the theory that this is a major mechanism in the development of diabetic complications, as well as, the so-called normal degenerative process of aging. Specifically, glycation is the attachment of glucose to protein and lipid molecules, thereby altering their form and function. This is particularly problematic in the cell membranes lining the blood vessels.
The class of altered molecules that results are known as Advanced Glycation End-products (AGE for short). Imagine the normal smooth inner lining of your arteries becoming “wrinkled” and rough as sugar causes molecules to stick together.
This is an over-simplified version of the process. There are many complex steps involved. I wanted to avoid a technical discussion of biochemistry, because that would make you would stop reading.
The process of glycation occurs “normally” in the body. It is inescapable. It is simply the nature of sugar to stick to other things. Just think of what happens after you spill a sugary drink on the counter top. Everything sticks there!
Everybody has glucose in their blood and tissues, so everybody sustains some glycation damage. This means that non-diabetics are at risk for the ravages of the glycation process as well. Doctors test people to determine the amount of hemoglobin with glucose stuck to it. This the hemoglobin A1c test. There is a range that is considered normal, because it happens spontaneously even in non-diabetics. If your level of A1c is high, then you have had an excess amount of glucose in your blood, which has been available to get stuck to more hemoglobin molecules.
Evidence suggests that glycation is also damaging to structures other than the blood vessels. It is currently being evaluated as one of the major causes of the degenerative changes that afflict humans in the aging process. For example, glycation of collagen in the skin and underlying tissue is now thought to be a major factor in the loss of elasticity that occurs with aging. This means that glucose in your diet will help you get wrinkles and saggy skin! It is truly ironic that AGE’s should be implicated in aging!
The attachment of sugar in this process is only dependent on how much of it is available to become stuck. This is yet another reason why we recommend strict limits on the total body sugar load (that means carbohydrates) for everyone. Quite simply, elevated blood (body) sugar levels over time cause an excess of glycation. Now you understand why diabetics suffer so many complications of their disease. This should cause us to question why current recommendations for diabetic diets contain large amounts of carbohydrates.
If this is not depressing enough, we all encounter AGE’s in the food we eat, particularly from the meat that we cook. Studies have suggested that up to 30 % of the AGE’s that we consume can find their way into our bodies and tissues. So, even if you’re eating a low carbohydrate high fat diet with a good amount of grass fed meat, you can still end up with AGE’s! That hardly seems fair!
In the previous “zombie” post, I hinted at an underlying inflammatory process that is involved in the development of atherosclerotic vascular disease (heart disease). That has not changed. Very likely, there are several more contributors as well. At this time, it seems the disruption of normal structures caused by the “sticky” sugar is also a promoter of the disease. Research on the role of AGE’s in cataracts, dementia and neuropathy to name a few is active and ongoing.
Fight the Future
So is there any good news? The answer is yes. First and foremost, do whatever it takes to maintain a normal blood sugar level, for as long as you can! Every moment of high glucose levels in your blood and tissues is another moment of glycation damage.
Your body does have some of its own measures to counteract the mischief that that glucose causes. In general, good nutrition, with a low carbohydrate intake and proper micro-nutrient balance will set the stage for the proper management of those glucose molecules.
For diabetics, those with poor diets or anyone who would like the possibility of extra dietary help, to lessen the impacts of glycation, there are certain promising substances, which can compete for and bind to the sites that glucose likes to go, without sticking to other molecules. It’s like a game of musical chairs, and we just need players that are faster than glucose! Hopefully, some players may be able to push glucose out of its chair.
I have compiled a brief roster of compounds that show promise to support the body in its defense against glycation.
2) R-Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA for short).
3) Vitamin E.
4) Pyridoxal 5-phosphate.
Finally, a word about the scientific evidence. There are studies that have shown these compounds offer a benefit in the struggle against glycation. The information available is also somewhat confusing.
You will likely see claims that many of these compounds have not proven to be of benefit. When you see claims like that, ask yourself about the test subjects and their diets. Does the study specify anything about their diet?
It is likely that, at best, the test subjects are following the ridiculous advice of the ADA which recommends daily ingestion of huge amounts of sugar (carbohydrates). This is still considered the standard of care for treating diabetes. Alternatively, the subjects may be “cheating” and indulging in more flagrant glucose loads. Since glycation is a phenomenon that is dependent upon the amount of glucose present, it should not be surprising that people who continue to load themselves with glucose will not show any benefits. Don’t be that person.
We advocate a holistic approach to health. Fight the sugar and the inflammation on all fronts at the same time. Lower your Carbohydrate intake. Nourish your body with good fats and unprocessed foods. Educate yourself so that you can have an informed discussion with your doctor regarding support for your health and metabolism.