Does sugar fast-track the ageing process?

RENAE LEITH-MANOS
Last updated 13:14 20/05/2013

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Excess processed sugar in your diet, even in small amounts can cause dark circles, wrinkles, dehydrate skin and can fast track the ageing process.

Sugar is in just about everything we eat, from natural sugars in foods like fruit and vegetables to added sugars in processed foods including soft drinks, cakes and biscuits. In America, sugar consumption has increased 40 per cent since the 1970s.

Some of the issues your body is faced with when confronted with excess sugar include:

1) Glycation: "When sugar enters your blood stream, it binds to proteins," Sydney endocrinologist Sophie Chan explains. Elastin and collagen are both proteins and building blocks of the skin. "During glycation, toxic compounds called Advanced Glycation End Products or AGEs are produced." These can cause wrinkles, sagging, dark circles under eyes and a multitude of complications to your organs and blood stream, and fast-track diabetes."

2) Human Growth Hormone: Human Growth Hormone is injected by celebrities (and body builders) in an attempt to ward off aging (we're not suggesting you do that), but we need to ensure our naturally occurring levels are high. "We know glucose suppresses the human growth hormone," says Chan. "When we give people a glucose tolerance test (to measure how their body reacts with sugar) we measure the levels of HGH." HGH helps regulate body composition, muscle and bone growth, fat metabolism and even heart function, without which you can look and feel older.

3) Insulin: Every time you eat sugar, your pancreas produces insulin to counter-act it. If the pancreas is overworked it leads to insulin resistance (the pre-cursor to diabetes, where the pancreas slows significantly and diet and exercise needs to be addressed quickly to avoid diabetes).

4) Inflammation: "Inflammation has been associated with a diet high in high GI foods," explains Kara Landau, a spokeswoman with the Dietitians Association of Australia. Inflammation can lead to broken capillaries, loss of skin elasticity, and breakdown of cells. All of which fast-track aging.

5) Immunity: "Eating sugar won't give you a cold," Chan laughs. "And in fact many people believe in manuka honey (a sugar) for treating colds. But in people with diabetes, immunity is significantly reduced."

6) Obesity: No-one looks younger when they gain weight. "Research has shown that when we eat sugar we tend not to eat healthy foods, so we deprive our bodies of critical vitamins and minerals." Vitamins and minerals needed to maintain a youthful, complexion.

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7) Bone Density: "We know carbonated sugars (such as soft drinks) significantly increase osteoporosis," Chan adds. Yet another condition that leads to premature aging.

8) Alzheimer's disease: In preliminary studies, researchers at The Fisher Centre in New York have found a link between heightened blood sugar and alzheimer's.

So how much is too much? The World Health Organization recommends sugar is 5- 10 per cent of your diet. "Ideally we should eat no processed sugars at all," Chan says. "Sugar should come from  a wholefood diet such as grains, fruit and natural food."

American food and health guru Michael Pollan has a simple solution; "We should not be eating anything our grandparent's grandparents wouldn't have eaten," he says.

And exercise? In brief, the current medical opinions are that unless the exercise is extreme, it is has little effect on blood sugar. "It was thought moderate exercise helped reduce blood sugar but it has been shown the exercise needs to be excessive to detect an effect, and the food needs to be eaten directly afterwards." Chan says.

Tips to stop the ageing/sugar cycle:

1. Reduce and ultimately eliminate processed sugar (so no soft drinks, added sugar, cakes, biscuits).

2. Read up about low GI foods - these are foods lower in sugar and where the chemical balance reduces sugar hits on your system.

3. Dietitian Kara Landau says "antioxidant rich foods such as deep coloured fruits, vegetables and legumes, nuts and spices can all help reduce inflammation."

4. "If you need to add sugar, natural honey is a better option, as is stevia," says endocrinologist Dr Sophie Chan.

6. One final incentive? Keep a photo diary of yourself over six months as you wean yourself off sugar. Most people are surprised at how much fresher - and younger they look.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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