Sugar: How It Affects The Body, Skin, and Aging

Consuming sugar is an often controversial and hotly debated topic. It’s been implicated in an increased risk of chronic diseases like obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Sugar has even been linked with premature aging, collagen, and elastin damage, and cognitive decline.

If we’re not making all the food we eat from scratch, the bulk of our sugar intake often comes from the sugar present in food prepared by food manufacturers. Because most people don’t tend to read labels on the prepared foods they buy, they end up consuming far more sugar than they think.

“Sugar is a skin wrecker, as it causes aging by increasing inflammation and glycation.” —Anthony Youn, M. D. in The Age Fix: A Leading Plastic Surgeon Reveals How to Really Look 10 Years Younger.

Dr. Youn says: “Sugar is just about the worst thing you can eat when it comes to your skin… Sugar = wrinkles.”

Sugar* is a form of carbohydrate. It is composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules. When we eat carbohydrates, our bodies digest and break them down into glucose which is our body’s preferred energy source. Even the cells of the brain and central nervous system prefer glucose for energy.

There are two types of carbohydrates: simple** and complex.*** The difference between the two is how quickly they are digested and absorbed, which is determined by their chemical structure.

Complex carbohydrates are formed from three or more sugar molecules while simple carbohydrates are composed of either one sugar molecule (monosaccharides) or two (disaccharides).

The quality of the carbohydrate from which the glucose is derived determines how efficiently the body will use it. So it’s easy to understand that a high-quality source such as a handful of blueberries is going to offer the body a better energy source than a piece of candy.

Complex carbs tend to be nutrient and fiber dense while simple carbohydrates like white sugar are largely devoid of nutrients. When sugar is refined it is stripped of all its nutrients and health-giving properties. It contributes little to the body other than a short-lived burst of energy.

Complex carbs tend to be more filling making them a good option for weight control and excellent for people with Type 2 diabetes because they help manage blood sugar spikes after meals. Moreover, complex sugars offer life-force to the body.

Once inside your body, sugar is digested and broken down by the small intestine into glucose. Next, glucose is released into the bloodstream and travels throughout the rest of your body where muscles, organs and other tissues either convert it into energy or store it for later.

Complex carbohydrates provide more staying power in your body and therefore offer the body more sustained energy than does a simple carb.

When we eat too much sugar—and this can mean too many calories, especially carbohydrate calories made of starchy and sugary foods—the body can no longer elegantly convert the sugar to energy and store it properly. A large amount of sugar triggers the body to release a flood of insulin to bring the blood sugar down. Then the blood sugar has the potential to dive too low.

This yo-yo effect on the blood sugar can cause systemic inflammation which is damaging to the skin and compromises our health.

“But perhaps the most direct link between sugar and aging is glycation,” says Dr. Youn. “High levels of sugar in the bloodstream cause a chain reaction of accelerated aging when sugar molecules bond to protein and fat molecules in the body, deforming and stiffening them.”

Glycation impacts collagen and elastin—the building blocks of skin—and when sugar molecules attach to them, these molecules stiffen, bend out of shape, and drain of color. These molecules are now sugar-protein hybrids and today’s science calls them AGEs—advanced glycation end products.

Some glycation is normal and to be expected, but the more you have the more your skin is affected. Too much sugar creates too many AGEs and acceleration of aging: premature wrinkles, sagging, stiffness, an unattractive distribution of fat pockets, loss of circulation in the skin, slower cell turnover, and loss of youthful glow.

Just the thought of glycation is enough to motivate us to ease off refined sugars. If it’s sweetness you crave, opt for healthier choices like fruit. A fruit is any produce bearing a seed, stone, or pit so fruit includes less sweet produce like squashes, peppers, and cucumbers, for example.

Ultimately, no sugars are really required by the body other than the natural sugars derived from fresh, unspoiled, and unaltered fruits and vegetables. Just imagine how all that life and goodness

will show up in our bodies and on our faces.

* Sugar comes in many forms: white granulated sugar, cane sugar, cane juice, turbinado sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, rice syrup, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, coconut sugar, honey and more.

**Examples are pastries, sugar-coated cereals, white bread, candy, soda

*** Examples are sweet potatoes, whole grain bread, leafy greens, berries, fruits.

Rippe, James M, and Theodore J Angelopoulos. “Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding.” Nutrients vol. 8,11 697. 4 Nov. 2016, doi:10.3390/nu8110697

Danby, F William. “Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation.” Clinics in dermatology vol. 28,4 (2010): 409-11. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2010.03.018

Youn, M.D., Anthony. The Age Fix: A Leading Plastic Surgeon Reveals How to Really Look 10 Years Younger. United States, Grand Central Publishing, 2016.

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