Glycation is a non-enzymatic process that permanently bonds a sugar to a protein. In the case of skin, the protein bonding to the sugar is our collagen— the main structural protein responsible for firming skin and reducing lines and wrinkles. Glycation is a serious beauty saboteur.
The process of glycation leads to a loss of protein function and impaired elasticity of tissues such as blood vessels, skin, and tendons.
Glycation keeps collagen molecules from forming their proper network-like structure. In the skin, the glycation process causes wrinkles. In the walls of arteries, collagen glycation creates buildup of plaque and a narrowing of the arteries which significantly increases risk of heart attack and stroke.
Collagen becomes dysfunctional when glucose in the blood attaches itself to protein. As we age, our cells become less responsive to the sugar and carbohydrate processing hormone insulin and as a result, we may develop higher glucose and insulin levels and tend to put on weight, especially belly fat. This insulin resistance can cause us to age prematurely by damaging our kidneys, eyes, nerves and blood vessels. In addition, the extra unprocessed glucose binds to our DNA, proteins, and lipids throughout the process of glycation.
Glycation begins affecting both collagen and elastin in our mid-30s according to a 2007 study in the British Journal of Dermatology. And later in life, the guardian effect on skin cells and the collagen matrix becomes of particular importance to post-menopausal women who, at this time, need more than ever to protect the functional collagen their bodies possess as they become less able to manufacture collagen.
Advanced Glycation End Products
The process of glycation produces molecules called advanced glycation end products, termed AGE products for short.
AGEs are highly accumulated in tissues and organs in numerous age-related degenerative diseases.
AGEs produce harmful free radicals in the body which not only damage collagen but cause many signs of aging not related to collagen loss or damage.
AGEs enter the body’s circulatory system through the process of food digestion and they are notorious for causing increased inflammation in the body.
How AGEs Occur in the Body
Glycated collagen and elastin cannot be reversed, therefore prevention is key.
AGEs were initially identified in the cooking process. This reaction is called the Maillard(1) reaction. The Maillard reaction is often used to improve the color, flavor, aroma, and texture of foods through non-enzymatic browning which typically rapidly occurs at temperatures of 280°F to 330°F.
High temperature cooking: The greatest quantity of AGEs are created by frying or broiling foods containing fats or meats. Few AGEs are found in boiled or raw vegetarian foods. High temperature cooking adds to the body’s AGE burden.
Many recipes call for an oven temperature high enough to ensure that a Maillard reaction occurs. Evidence of the Maillard reaction can be easily seen in caramelized toppings, browned bread crust, toasted bread and cookies and more prominently in seared steaks, grilled or fried high fat meat and fish, roasted coffee and toasted marshmallows, for example.
Tobacco cigarettes and smoking: The yellowy appearance of the skin of chain smokers is at least partially the result of a glycated collagen and elastin network. Reactive glycation products have been found to be present in aqueous extracts of tobacco as well as in tobacco smoke in a form that can rapidly react with proteins to form AGEs. In experimental models, the formation of AGEs is associated with atherosclerotic vascular disease (atherosclerosis) and DNA mutations.
Hyperglycemia: People with excess sugar in the blood as a result of insulin resistance are particularly vulnerable to glycation and consequently, to premature aging.(2)
Sun exposure: AGEs are proven amplified by exposure to ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light actually accelerates the glycation process.
Consuming a diet high in sugars and refined carbohydrates: This high sugar/high carb diet not only damages existing collagen, it dramatically impairs future collagen production and elastin metabolism.
Oxidative stress: The glycation reaction is highly accelerated in the presence of tissue oxidative stress. Because there are no enzymes to remove glycated products from the human body, the glycation process aligns with the theory that the accumulation of metabolic waste promotes aging.
Oxidative stress has been implicated as a key factor in the progression of aging and AGEs and also in chronic diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
When we accumulate AGE products, whether it’s a result of hyperglycemia or because we consume AGEs in foods or through destructive lifestyle habits, we make ourselves prone to tissue degeneration and premature aging.
In addition to sugars, starches also age the skin by attaching to collagen, stiffening and damaging the body’s youth network.
Inhibiting the glycation process while removing existing glycation products in our daily lifestyle just may help extend our quality longevity.
You can help your skin slow the occurrence of AGEs by consuming the following nutritious glycation inhibitors:
Green and black teas: A potent anti-glycation botanical, drinking two cups of quality green tea per day will help to slow glycation. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the wonder component found in high quantities of the dried leaves of green tea and in smaller quantities in black tea, is found to effectively inhibit glycation.
Blueberries: Blueberries have been found to safely break the self-perpetuating cycle of AGEs and oxidative stress that underlies aging of the skin. When researchers tested the anti-glycation activity of various fruits, blueberries ranked as one of the highest.
Blueberries also help protect against collagen breakdown by inhibiting matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) (enzymes that break down proteins) that occur as a response to ultraviolet light exposure.
Carnosine: Carnosine has been shown to prevent AGE formation by reducing blood glucose, preventing early glycation, and even potentially reversing previously formed AGEs. Carnosine is naturally produced by the body in the liver from the amino acids beta-alanine and histidine. There are no plant-based sources of carnosine, but carnosine is readily available as a synthetic nutritional supplement.
Pomegranate: Pomegranate compounds show carbonyl scavenger reactivity by reducing the level of methylglyoxal (a side product of metabolism), a dicarbonyl compound (a compound where carbon and oxygen share a double bond) known as an AGE precursor.
These compounds have been found to reduce the formation of AGEs and the anti-glycation effect may be related to the compounds’ ability to trap reactive dicarbonyl species.
Antioxidants such as vitamin C and more: Vitamin C, riboflavin and niacin (B vitamins), zinc, selenium, α-tocopherol and trolox (types of vitamin E), and manganese all have demonstrated the inhibition of glycation. So have the spices ginger, clove, cinnamon, marjoram, tarragon, and rosemary.
In a human trial, vitamin C supplementation decreased serum protein glycation by 46.8% over four weeks.
The above inhibitors act not only as skin stimulators but as skin strengtheners as they provoke cell receptor sites to create powerful effects. Skin actives that utilize receptor power can enormously alter the aging process within the skin. Peptides, elastin agonists,(3) and high doses of a certain formulation of vitamin C can have a positive youth triggering effect to the skin if utilized consistently. They can keep skin on a more youthful trajectory.
Plant and algae extracts: Potential beneficial glycation prevention events have been demonstrated when studied in vitro.
Flavonoids: Flavonoids are part of the major class of plant compounds known as polyphenols and are known for their potent anti-glycation action. Anti-glycation properties of the flavonoids kaempferol, genistein, quercitrin, and quercetin, have all been reported.
Physical exercise: Physiological exercise proves significant in reducing the burden of AGEs in the body. Weight bearing exercise stimulates natural turnover and remodeling of the matrix cells in tendons and skeletal muscles making them more impervious to glycation.
Consistent physical exercise has been shown to improve systemic antioxidation resulting in a mitigation or slowing of the overall aging process, and more specifically, in the slowing of the process of glycation.
Vigorous physical activity improves glycemic control and brings a consequent reduction of AGE accumulation in diabetic patients and people who are advancing in years.
Regular physical activity contributes to physical capacity, blood pressure regulation, reduced oxidative stress, and better lipid metabolism. Exercise also improves the activities of the antioxidant enzyme.
It’s believed that higher energy demands provoked by physical exercise might reduce the pool of reactive molecules available for glycation in the first place. The inhibition of AGE formation caused by regular exercise may be the main mechanism of exercise-associated antioxidant activity.
AGE formation can also be retarded or reduced by means of efficient glycemic control. Since regular physical exercise improves glycemic balance, formation and accumulation of AGEs in tissues can be decreased or slowed.
Periodic fasting and/or intermittent calorie restriction: Both practices have been shown to slow the accumulation of damage to the collagen matrix and also the rate of glycation.
By being vigilant about our lifestyle and all the dietary and environmental factors listed above which contribute to AGEs, we can create skin that appears more youthful and vibrant. It takes less effort for the skin to maintain its own equilibrium once it is achieved and the trajectory into mature dull sagging skin can be slowed down remarkably.
1. The Maillard reaction is named after French chemist Louis Camille Maillard, who first described it in 1912 while attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis.
2. A hemoglobin A1c blood test which measures the extent to which the hemoglobin protein within your red blood cells have been glycated/damaged by elevated blood sugar levels can be ordered by your doctor.
3. Agonist: a chemical that activates a receptor to produce a biological response.to
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