Sugar and Aging
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An estimated 300 theories of aging have been proposed in the scientific literature and the question of why and how we age continues to be explored and debated with hundreds of new studies each year.
What we do know with some confidence is that sweetener consumption makes you age faster and more visibly, and it can shorten your lifespan.
At first this idea that sugar accelerates aging came in the form of a theory advanced in 2003, in the journal Medical Hypotheses. The author evaluated studies done on the benefits of caloric restriction in extending lifespan, and studies done on the health impacts of sugars and fats, to offer a path for future research to investigate whether “restriction of foods with a high glycemic index would avoid or delay many diseases of aging and might result in life extension.”
Subsequent research began to establish the links between the various sugars and age acceleration.
Studies detailed how chronic sugar intake produces glycation in the body, which in turn damages collagen and elastin fibers in the skin, which results in sagginess, wrinkles and skin discoloration. The typical signs of aging manifest.
But it gets worse for you sugar eaters. A by-product of glycation are free radicals which not only further contribute to accelerated aging, yet also make the skin more vulnerable to damage from the sun, thus raising the risk of skin cancer. Even greater concentrations of free radicals are generated by consuming high fructose corn syrup.
Sugar intake also shortens your life.
In 2014 a study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that people who drank sugar-sweetened sodas had shorter telomeres than people who didn’t drink them. Telomeres are at the end of chromosomes inside our cells and as these cells divide over time with age, telomeres get shorter, a standard marker for aging. Sugar’s impact on telomeres, accelerating this shortening, tells us that sugar promotes faster aging and quicker death.
In another experiment evaluating how other people view the ages of sugar eaters, a team of scientists in Holland in Sugars Accelerate Your Aging 113 2013 took photographs of 602 test subjects, men and women aged 50 to 70 years, and measured their non-fasting glucose and insulin levels. These photographs were then shown to a board of 60 independent assessors who were asked to assess the ages of test subjects. The higher the person’s blood glucose level, the older that person looked and was rated by the independent viewers.
This was a consistent study finding. Sugar consumption produces high blood glucose levels, which in turn ages the person faster, a phenomenon that is visible to other people.
“We took into account other factors such as whether or not that person smoked and yet still the effects were clear— the higher the blood glucose, the older the person looked,” commented Dr. David Gunn, a co-author of the study, in an interview he did with Britain’s The Daily Mail newspaper.
“Skin experts agree,” observed dermatologists quoted in the newspaper article. “A diet high in sugar is a disaster for the face.”
An even deadlier combination to accelerate aging and hasten death is to mix a sugar-laden diet with high levels of stress. The stress hormone cortisol was measured in a large group of volunteers in another study by the same Dutch researchers, along with the glucose levels, and another clear trend emerged showing that sugar and cortisol make people older.
It may be a synergistic effect at work between stress and sugar. This is an angle on aging that remains to be fully explored by research scientists, though it already makes perfect sense. We know from a substantial body of research that stress is both a premature age-promoter and a serial killer. Now we know that sugar is, too. Combine the two killers together and we have a criminal gang loose in our lives.
Evidence for the Sugar and Aging Link
“Glucose and cortisol have been previously associated with facial aging. We assessed a random sample of 579 people from the Leiden Longevity Study. A higher non-fasted glucose level and a higher fasted cortisol level tended to associate with a higher perceived age based on skin wrinkling.” Disentangling the effects of circulating IGF-1, glucose, and cortisol on features of perceived age. Van Drielen K. Et al. Age. 2015 Jun;37(3):9771.
“Wild-derived mice were fed either fructose, glucose or sucrose for 40 weeks. Females fed the fructose and glucose diet experience a mortality rate 1.9 times the rate of controls and produced 26.4% fewer offspring.” Compared to sucrose, previous consumption of fructose and glucose monosaccharides reduces survival and fitness of female mice. Ruff JA. Et a. J Nutr. 2015 Mar;145(3):434–41.
“We tested whether leukocyte telomere length maintenance, which underlies healthy cellular aging, provides a link between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and the risk of cardio metabolic disease. We examined cross-sectional associations between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, diet soda, and fruit juice and telomere length in a sample of 5309 health US adults aged 20 to 65 years with no history of diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Sugar sweetened soda consumption was associated with shorter telomeres. Consumption of 100% fruit juice was marginally associated with longer telomeres.” Soda and cell aging: associations between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and leukocyte telomere length in healthy adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Leung CW. Et al. Am J Public Health. 2014 Dec;104(12):2425–31.
“Perceived age was assessed using facial photographs and non-fasted glucose and insulin were measured in 602 subjects. In non-diabetic subjects perceived age was increased by 0.40 years per 1 mmol/L increase in glucose level. The present study demonstrates that higher glucose levels are associated with a higher perceived age.” High serum glucose levels are associated with a higher perceived age. Noordam R. Et al.Age. 2013 Feb;35(1):189–95.
“Here we show that comparatively low levels of added sugar consumption have substantial negative effects on mouse survival, competitive ability, and reproduction. We demonstrate that fructose/glucosefed females experience a twofold increase in mortality.” Human-relevant levels of added sugar consumption increase female mortality and lower male fitness in mice. Ruff JS. Et al. Nat Commun. 2013;4:2245.
“The effect of sugars on aging skin is governed by the simple act of covalently cross-linking two collagen fibers, which renders both of them incapable of easy repair. Glucose and fructose link the amino acids present in the collagen and elastin that support the dermis, producing advanced glycation and products or Ages. This process is accelerated in all body tissues when sugar is elevated and is further stimulated by ultraviolet light in the skin.” Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation. Danby FW. Clin Dermatol. 2010 Jul–Aug;28(4):409–11.
“Telomeres serve as a mitotic clock and biological marker of senescence. Diabetic mellitus is associated with damage to target organs and premature aging. We assessed the effect of glycemic control on telomere dynamics in arterial cells of 58 patients undergoing coronary artery bypass and in mononuclear blood cells of other diabetic (32 type I) and 47 (type II) patients. Telomeres were significantly shorter in the arteries of diabetic versus non-diabetic patients and in mononuclear cells of both type I and type II diabetes. In all study groups good glycemic control attenuated shortening of the telomeres.” Telomere dynamics in arteries and mononuclear cells of diabetic patients: effect of diabetes and of glycemic control. Uziel O, et al. Exp Gerontol. 2007 Oct;42(10):971–8.
“Sugar-induced negative effects on epidermal keratinocytes, using glucose and glyoxal, with a 3-day treatment, prematurely aged the epidermal keratinocytes.” Sugar-induced premature aging and altered differentiation in human epidermal keratinocytes. Berge U, etal. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Apr;1100:524–9. ✦ “Telomere shortening is seen even at the stage of impaired glucose tolerance. Among subjects with type 2 diabetes, those with atherosclerotic plaques had greater shortening of telomere length compared to those without plaques.” Association of telomere shortening with impaired glucose tolerance and diabetic macroangiopathy. Adaikalakoteswari A, et al. Atherosclerosis. 2007 Nov;195(1):83–9.
“Our data demonstrated that glucose-induced aging in vitro caused an elongation and thickening of cell processes. A possible age-inducing effect of glucose is also supported by the decrease of ras protein expression and shortening of telomeres.” Exogenous application of glucose induces aging in rat cerebral oligodendrocytes as revealed by alteration in telomere length. Dabouras V. Rothermel A, et al. Neurosci Lett. 2004 Sep 16;368(1):68–72.
“Simultaneous consideration of the influence of the different types of carbohydrates and fats in human diets on mortality rates (especially the diseases of aging) and the probable retardation of such diseases by caloric restriction leads to the hypothesis that restriction of foods with a high glycemic index and saturated or hydrogenated fats would avoid or delay many diseases of aging and might result in life extension.” Does dietary sugar and fat influence longevity? Archer VE. Med Hypotheses. 2003 Jun;60(6):924–9.
Sugars Accelerate Your Aging 119 “This study addressed whether food and nutrient intakes were correlated with skin wrinkling in a sun-exposed site. 177 Greek-born subjects living in Melbourne, 69 Greek subjects living in rural Greece, 48 Anglo-Celtic Australian elderly living in Melbourne and 159 Swedish subjects living in Sweden, participating in the International Union of Nutritional Science Food Habits in Later Life study, had their dietary intakes measure and their skin assessed. Food and nutrient intakes were assessed using a validated semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire. Correlation analyses on the pooled data and using the major food groups suggested that there may be less actinic skin damage with a higher intake of vegetables, olive oil, legumes, and lower intake of butter, margarine, milk products, and sugar products.” Skin wrinkling: can food make a difference? Purba MB. Kouris-Blazos A, et al. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Feb;20(1):71–80.
“Although critical gaps remain in our understanding of how dietary sucrose can affect biological aging, evidence exists that the type and amounts of dietary carbohydrate can significantly affect the health and life span of elderly people.” Influence of dietary sucrose on biological aging. McDonald RB. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995 Jul;62(1 Suppl):284S–292S.
“Several studies in the last decade have highlighted the importance of the hexose sugars and especially glucose, as being responsible for alterations to living protein and other molecules. The phenomenon of nonenzymatic glycation—by which the carbonyl group of glucose can directly condense with a free amino group—may be relevant to the process of aging and for the pathogenesis of late diabetic complications.” Advanced nonenzymatic glycation endproducts (AGE): their relevance to aging and the pathogenesis of late diabetic complications. Sensi M, et al. Diabetes Res. 1991 Jan;16(1):1–9.
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