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  • Ewa Doszczak

Time to meet glycation - sugar's most dangerous weapon

Many aspects have an impact on skin ageing, such as UV rays and smoking, for example. But there is one factor that you should pay particular attention to - and that is the glycation process. What is glycation, and why does it have such a detrimental effect on the skin? You can find it out in the following article.

We all like to eat sweets. Sugar and sugar-like products surround us everywhere. Literally. The shops are flooded with these products. When we're having a bad day, feeling down, or looking for something quick to eat, that's when we opt for sugary snacks.


Have you ever noticed how sticky a lollipop gets once you put it in your mouth? Sugar is sticky because when it dissolves in water, it reacts with proteins on the surface of your skin and forms fragile chemical bonds. When you feel the resistance of your fingers sticking together with icing, you actually feel the bonds' resistance being torn apart. The process by which sugar sticks wherever it can is called glycation.

What is glycation?


It is rarely mentioned, but it plays a significant role in keeping your skin healthy and young-looking. But it's not just the skin itself - the glycation process also accelerates the aging of internal organs at a faster rate than it should.



Glycation is the process that most often occurs between DNA and lipids, glucose, and proteins.


We distinguish between two types of glycation - extrinsic and intrinsic.


What is extrinsic glycation? It takes place outside the human body and most often occurs when sugars, proteins, and lipids are treated at high temperatures. That is when you cook in the kitchen or eat out. When you toast a slice of bread in a toaster oven, advanced glycation products (AGEs) are formed in the proteins and sugars present in the bread due to oxidation. White, soft bread is turned into hard, crusty, and brown bread - the proteins and sugars harden and become stiff. Imagine the same thing happening in your body. When sugars attack cells and tissues, they become stiff, brittle, and harden.


When there is a small sugar supply to the body and normal blood sugar levels, these reactions happen slowly enough that the clean-up crews (leukocytes) keep up with the intervention and interrupt the whole process to keep everything under control. The kidneys remove the glycation products from the blood and then excrete them from the body.


The problem starts when there is too much sugar circulating in the blood. The attack begins - in rapid succession, one after another, adverse reactions occur for our body. And this is called intrinsic glycation.



Advanced glycation end-products

The final product of glycation is AGE's (advanced glycation end-products). These products are very persistent, and unfortunately, you cannot reverse this process.

The content of glycation products increases with age. The reason for this is probably a reduced ability to remove them from the body. And this, in turn, may be due to a slower metabolism, resulting in a slower protein remodeling mechanism.

One of these proteins which are attacked by sugar is collagen. Under the influence of sugar molecules, the number of cross fibres increases, which means that its structure changes.

The whole process's effect is a stiffening of the fibre, reduced solubility of this protein, and reduced susceptibility to digestion by enzymes. Besides, due to this process, the skin takes on a yellowish tinge as the proteins turn a brownish-yellow colour.

When all body processes regularly occur, the collagen (protein) that is damaged is then removed. In its place, the dermis cells can produce new collagen and place it where the previous fibre was removed.

However, due to glycation and an increase in the concentration of its products AEG's, an imbalance in this process occurs. It translates into accelerated skin aging; a decrease in elasticity.

AEG's can also contribute to the initiation of inflammation in the body. The binding of these products to receptors on the cell - activates the production of inflammatory cytokines.

This process affects tissue destruction, dysfunction of proteins and enzymes. It can lead to modification of the collagen in the skin and the collagen found in the walls of blood vessels. The collagen molecules usually move freely, allowing the vessels to expand and contract.

When AEG is attached, the collagen molecules become immobilised. It results in greater wall stiffness and increased blood pressure. The stiffening of the tissues turns the semi-permeable surfaces of the arteries into tight walls. This process effectively prevents nutrients from penetrating outside the bloodstream. When trapped substances are unable to escape, they begin to accumulate in the arteries. It can result in the formation of clots or atherosclerotic plaques.


Glycation may also be linked to impaired wound healing.

Smoking is also a crucial factor. Tobacco smoke contains very high amounts of glycotoxins, which stimulate protein glycation. This is why it is easy to see how quickly the skin aging process progresses in smokers, the so-called 'smoker's skin.'

It is also worth mentioning that glycation leads to reactive oxygen species (ROS - free oxygen radicals). The resulting oxidation process promotes glycation, creating a so-called "vicious circle," The skin has to deal with the double attack.


We can see an increased amount of AEG's in diabetics. The number of free radicals produced due to AEG's presence increases 50-fold in older people and diabetics.




How to stop glycation?


To avoid the harmful effects of glycation, start by changing your diet. Keep your intake of simple sugars, processed foods, fried or grilled food in moderation.


When cooking at home, try to keep the heat treatment short. Using the microwave to heat food is a terrible idea. It is convenient (because it is fast), but the energy that acts on the microwave food is highly concentrated. For example, a glass of milk heated in this way causes the number of AGEs in it to double or even triple.


An excellent sugar substitute is dried fruit - e.g., dates or figs, but in moderation. Enrich your diet with plenty of fibre, vegetables, and fruit, rich in antioxidants. It is also worth including supplementation with ingredients with antioxidant properties, such as vitamin C or vitamin B.


Remember that it is impossible to completely eliminate sugars from your diet (it would be bad for you anyway because you need small amounts). You can try to limit sugar, read the labels of the products you are going to buy, and choose those without added sugar. Carbohydrates from potatoes, pasta, white bread, and rice are also broken down into sugars - bear this in mind if you want to reduce glycation processes.


Avoid overeating as it is dangerous to your health. It is a bad idea to eat excessive amounts of food, especially those that are overcooked.


Changing your diet is currently the most effective, long-term form of prevention that can guarantee to slow down the aging process and limit diseases' development.


Try to eat smaller amounts of food.


What about the skin?


Since it is under attack from all sides, try to act in several directions. At home, use creams with AHA acids or retinol at night (but not in summer because retinol is photosensitizing). Remember to start your treatment with a low concentration of retinol, applying it every second or third day to allow your skin to get used to it.


Year-round UV protection is a must. Use sunglasses when necessary because your eyes need protection too. Try to choose cosmetics that contain plant extracts, e.g., gooseberry seeds, grapes, green tea, blueberries (they contain lots of antioxidant polyphenols, which stop the glycation process), vitamins C, E, B3, niacinamide, coenzyme Q10 (which also has antioxidant properties). Also include supplements with antioxidant properties, such as vitamin B, E, and carosine.


A good skincare routine is a healthy sleep and sport done regularly.


Take advantage of regenerative, antioxidant, collagen-stimulating, rejuvenating treatments or even deeper skin peeling with acids that beauty salons have to offer.


Prevention can do miracles. The skin is a very grateful organ. If it is cared for correctly and gets what it needs, it looks young, healthy, and radiant.


Final words


Sugar becomes harmful when converted into AGEs in a non-enzymatic reaction (i.e., one that is not created by the body itself). These compounds, which reduce blood vessels' elasticity, set off gliders involving long-term inflammation-causing pathological changes.


This process is spontaneous and occurs throughout life. Its effects can only be reversed in the initial stages; unfortunately, the longer it goes on, the more difficult it is to repair the damage caused.


Therefore, if you want your skin to be constantly beautiful and young and your internal organs to be efficient and in good condition, reduce your sugar intake to a minimum. It is the best protection against premature ageing of the whole body caused by glycation.


Do you find it hard to reduce sugar in your diet? Let me know in the comments!

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