This Blood Test FAR More Important than Cholesterol in Determining How Old You Look
December 17, 2011
By Dr. Mercola
Many people over the age of, say, 50 would like to turn back the hands of time and not only feel younger but look younger as well.
But very few people appreciate the fact that making dietary changes -- specifically in relation to sugar and grain consumption – is likely the closest formula for a "fountain of youth" that's currently known.
The journal Age recently featured an intriguing study on this very topic; it found that higher glucose levels are associated with a higher perceived age, which was assessed using facial photographs.
In other words, the higher your glucose levels, the older you'll tend to look, which makes perfect sense since the manner in which your body handles glucose is intimately connected to skin aging.
While many people are diligent (if not entirely neurotic) about having their cholesterol levels tested, many overlook the importance of fasting insulin levels.
This commonly overlooked and much more important measurement can clue you in to whether you're consuming a harmful amount of glucose, whether your body is capable of handling it, and by implication, the degree to which accelerating aging may be going on in your body.
Why it's Important to Know Your Insulin Level
Insulin is absolutely essential to staying alive, but the sad fact is that most of you reading this right now have unsafe levels of it accumulating in your bloodstream, and it is pushing you toward accelerated aging and the development of chronic degenerative illnesses, which sadly have become a right of passage in most Westernized societies.
Most adults have about one gallon of blood in their bodies and are quite surprised to learn that in that gallon, there is only one teaspoon of sugar! In other words, your body is designed to have just one teaspoon of sugar in your blood at all times -- if that. If your blood sugar level were to rise to one tablespoon of sugar you would run the risk of going into a hyperglycemic coma and even dying.
Your body works very hard to prevent this from happening by producing insulin to keep your blood sugar at the appropriate level. Any meal or snack high in grain and sugar carbohydrates typically generates a rapid rise in blood glucose. To compensate for this your pancreas secretes insulin into your bloodstream, which lowers your blood sugar to keep you from dying. Insulin, however, is also very efficient at lowering blood sugar by turning it into fat – so the more you secrete, the fatter you become.
Unfortunately, If you consume a diet consistently high in sugar and grains, your blood glucose levels will be correspondingly high and over time your body becomes "desensitized" to insulin and requires more and more of it to get the job done. Eventually, you become insulin resistant, and then full-blown diabetic.
If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or are overweight, it is quite likely that you are eating too many grains and sugars, as this is the most common cause of abnormal insulin levels. Fructose has been shown to be especially harmful, due to the way it disrupts the lock-and-key fit between insulin and its cellular receptor sites. Dozens of animal and human studies prove that fructose is a powerful endocrine disruptor, capable of rapidly inducing insulin resistance when consumed in, what by today's standards, is a relatively small amount (15 grams or more a day).
To find out your insulin levels, ask your physician for a fasting blood insulin test. It's one of the least expensive tests, yet it is one of the most empowering ones available to help you take back control of your health. A normal fasting blood insulin level is below 5, but ideally you'll want to be below 3.
You can also use a simple glucose test to check your fasting glucose, however it's possible to have low fasting glucose yet have significantly elevated insulin levels.
If this is the case, you're essentially pre-diabetic and need to take steps to improve your insulin sensitivity, and the most potent way is to reduce or eliminate sugar, particularly fructose, from your diet. Generally speaking, however, a fasting glucose under 100 mg/dl suggests that you're not insulin resistant, while a level between 100-125 suggests you're either mildly insulin resistant or have impaired glucose tolerance (sometimes referred to as pre-diabetes).
Can Eliminating Sugar from Your Diet Lengthen Your Lifespan?
Most of you probably know that your body does need, and uses, glucose for energy. Without it you wouldn't survive. But while glucose is certainly not toxic in and of itself, foods that raise and keep raised your blood sugar levels essentially are "toxic" in that they set in motion a cascade of detrimental health effects, especially when consumed in excess or over a long period of time.
Soda, candy, pasta, bread, pastries and fruit juice are examples of foods that quickly break down into glucose once consumed, generating a spike in your blood glucose levels and a corresponding release of insulin. It is becoming very clear that your longevity is intimately tied to this cycle, and by modifying your diet to restrict sugars and grains, you can slow down the rate at which your biological clock is ticking – and perhaps even turn back the dials a bit.
For instance, a study, published last year examined the effects of food on typical biological signs of advancing age. Typical signs of aging include elevated levels of glucose, insulin and triglycerides.
In this study, the participants were given a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet with an adequate amount of protein. This diet improved all of the measured factors related to the aging process, decreasing:
- Insulin by 48 percent
- Fasting glucose by 40 percent
- Triglyceride by nearly 8 percent
- Serum leptin by 8 percent on average
It's highly unfortunate that so few physicians have embraced this knowledge, because a firm appreciation of insulin's role in human health and disease is one of THE most important factors that can make or break your health! And again, the test to determine your levels is relatively inexpensive and widely available, while the steps for optimizing them, which I'll detail below, are also very straightforward.
Eating Carbs Turns Off Longevity Genes
Research by Professor Cynthia Kenyon found that carbohydrates directly affect two key genes in your body that govern longevity and youthfulness. I've previously written about how your diet can over-ride genetic predispositions to disease, and this research further strengthens those claims, as the two key genes in question can be turned on or off as a consequence of eating carbohydrates.
Professor Kenyon worked with Caenorhabditis elegans roundworms, but her findings have been successfully repeated in other labs around the world using other animals, including rats, mice, and to some extent, monkeys. Humans also have these genes, indicating these results should apply to us as well.
One of the most interesting details of her findings is that not only did the roundworms live up to SIX TIMES longer than normal, but they kept their health and youthful vigor until the end. Previous research has shown that you can extend your lifespan by reducing your caloric intake, and I've written about this technique in the past. The problem is that most people do not understand how to properly cut calories, because in order to remain healthy, you have to cut out calories from a specific source -- namely, sugar and grain carbohydrates!
Most of us eat far too many potatoes, rice, bread, and pasta. Of course we want to avoid all sugar and processed foods, but there is emerging evidence that most grains and legumes can contribute to health problems because:
However, Dr. Paul Jaminet provides a powerful argument that many, if not most people may benefit from a certain threshold of glucose carbohydrates that are necessary for optimal health.
- They will quickly be converted into glucose, which will raise your blood glucose
- As your blood glucose rises, your insulin- and leptin levels rise in response. While this mechanism is designed to optimize short-term survival, it's not healthy for a long, post-reproductive lifespan. The immediate effects of spiking your insulin levels are now well known and include vasoconstriction, inhibited fat burning, and reduced production of glycerol substrates to make glucose, just to name a few
- Repeated elevations of insulin and leptin eventually lead to insulin- and leptin resistance, which are hallmarks of poor health and accelerated aging
What's the Best Diet for Looking (and Feeling) Younger?
To put it simply, when you "starve" your body of sugars and starchy carbs, your body starts to acclimatize itself to burn fatty acids and ketone bodies. Ketones are what your body produces when it converts fat (as opposed to glucose) into energy—a beneficial process that appears to promote longevity.
On the other hand, consuming sugars and grains will raise your blood sugar, and the higher the blood sugar rise, the more damage is done. In this new study, researchers found that perceived age increased nearly half a year per 1 mmol/L increase in glucose level in non-diabetic people.
So, is there such a thing as a "fountain of youth"? I believe there is, in the symbolic sense, and its three cornerstones are:
- Avoid sugar/fructose and replace them with healthy fats
- Avoid grains
- Exercise regularly and effectively
These three cornerstones have one important factor in common, and that is helping you improve your insulin sensitivity -- the key to longevity and a youthful appearance.