By Dr. Mercola
Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are a complex group of compounds formed when sugar reacts with amino acids.
This can occur both in the food you eat, and inside your body.
It's is a fitting acronym because – along with oxidation – it's one of the major molecular mechanisms whereby damage accrues in your body, which leads to disease, aging, and eventually, death.
For example, there is mounting evidence that AGEs may be implicated in the development of the chronic degenerative diseases associated with aging, including but not limited to:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Alzheimer's disease, and
Several studies have shown that restricting the consumption of AGEs can lead to an increased lifespan in animal models.
According to a paper that summarizes recent research on AGEsi:
"... [T]he data are supportive that endogenous AGEs are associated with declining organ functioning. It appears that dietary AGEs may also be related.
... As of today, restriction of dietary intake of AGEs and exercise has been shown to safely reduce circulating AGEs, with further reduction in oxidative stress and inflammatory markers."
Why Limiting Sugar is Key for Longevity
Limiting sugar in your diet is a well-known key to longevity, because of all the molecules capable of inflicting damage in your body, sugar molecules are probably the most damaging of all. Fructose in particular is an extremely potent pro-inflammatory agent that creates AGEs and speeds up the aging process. It also promotes the kind of dangerous growth of fat cells around your vital organs that are the hallmark of diabetes and heart disease. In one study on fructose, 16 volunteers on a controlled diet including high levels of fructose produced new fat cells around their heart, liver and other digestive organs in just 10 weeks!
Sugar/fructose also increases your insulin and leptin levels and decreases receptor sensitivity for both of these vital hormones, and this is another major factor of premature aging and age-related chronic degenerative diseases such as heart disease. Keep in mind that while it's perfectly normal for your blood sugar levels to rise slightly after every meal, it is not natural or healthy when your blood sugar levels become excessively elevated and stay that way.
Unfortunately, that's exactly what will happen if you're eating like the stereotypical American, who consumes a staggering 2.5 pounds of sugar a week on average!
And when you add in other low-quality carb foods such as white bread, sugar, pasta, pastries, cookies, and candy, which also break down to sugar in your body, it's not so difficult to see why so many Americans are in such poor health.
This type of high-sugar (high-carb) diet is also what's driving the obesity epidemic—not diets high in fat. An infographic created by Column Five for Massive Health, based on Why We Get Fat by science writer Gary Taubes, explains why. In short, carbs, like fructose and other sugars, destroy your insulin and leptin sensitivity, which in turn causes your cells to accumulate more fat, and makes it more difficult to get rid of the extra weight as well. So, the bottom line is this: If you want to look and feel younger longer, avoid all forms of sugar (including grains) as much as possible!
Fructose adversely affects your body in a number of ways, but one of the mechanisms that causes significant damage is glycation. As already mentioned, glycation is the process in which sugar bonds with protein to form advanced glycation end products, or AGEs.
This process creates inflammation, which can activate your immune system.
Macrophages are scavenger cells that are part of your immune defense system, and as such they have special receptors for AGEs, aptly called RAGEs (think: raging inflammation). These RAGEs bind to the AGEs in your body and get rid of them. Unfortunately, this defensive process can also cause its fair share of damage. Inside your arteries, for example, the scar tissue created from this process is called plaque.
You really want to limit the AGEs in your body as much as possible, so your immune system won't have to work so hard to defend against them. As a standard recommendation to limit glycation, I strongly advise keeping your TOTAL fructose consumption below 25 grams per day.
However, most people would be wise to limit their fructose to 15 grams or less, particularly if you have elevated uric acid levels, which can be used as a predictor for fructose toxicity. (For more information on this, please see this previous article.) This includes keeping track of your fructose intake from whole fruits. For additional information about the fructose content of common fruits, please see this helpful fructose chart. I recommend this lower level simply because if you consume processed foods or sweet beverages at all, you're virtually guaranteed to consume "hidden" sources of fructose.
Fructose Metabolism Basics
Anyone who still insists that "sugar is sugar" is way behind the times... There are in fact major differences in how your body processes different sugars, and it's important to understand that when you consume fructose, your body packs on pounds at a much higher rate than it does when you consume glucose. The following summary details the main metabolic differences between fructose and glucose to help you understand how fructose can wreak such havoc with your health, and why it's considerably worse for you than glucose:
- After eating fructose, nearly all of the metabolic burden rests on your liver. But with glucose, your liver has to break down only 20 percent.
- Every cell in your body, including your brain, utilizes glucose. Therefore, much of it is "burned up" immediately after you consume it. By contrast, fructose is primarily converted into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL (the damaging form of cholesterol), and triglycerides, which get stored as fat.
- The fatty acids created during fructose metabolism accumulate as fat droplets in your liver and skeletal muscle tissues, causing insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Insulin resistance progresses to metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.
- Fructose is the most lipophilic carbohydrate. In other words, fructose converts to activated glycerol (g-3-p), which is directly used to turn FFAs into triglycerides. The more g-3-p you have, the more fat you store. Glucose does not do this.
- When you eat 120 calories of glucose, less than one calorie is stored as fat. 120 calories of fructose results in 40 calories being stored as fat. Fructose is essentially largely converted into fat!
- The metabolism of fructose by your liver creates a long list of waste products and toxins, including a large amount of uric acid, which triggers your "fat switch," causing you to gain more weight.
- Glucose does not do this, as it suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin and stimulates leptin, which suppresses your appetite. Fructose has no effect on ghrelin and interferes with your brain's communication with leptin, resulting in overeating.
How to Tame Your Sugar Cravings
As mentioned earlier, I recommend that you avoid as much sugar as possible. Do your best to keep your fructose consumption below 15-25 grams a day. This is especially important if you are overweight or have diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.
Sugar is highly addictive, so cutting down can be a real challenge for some, especially if you're consuming very high amounts. If you're struggling with sugar addiction, I highly recommend trying an energy psychology technique called Turbo Tapping, which has helped many "soda addicts" kick their sweet habit. If you still want to use a sweetener occasionally, here's what I recommend in lieu of sugar:
- Use the sweet herb stevia.
- Use organic cane sugar in moderation.
- Use organic raw honey in moderation.
- Avoid ALL artificial sweeteners, which can damage your health even more quickly than fructose.
- Avoid agave syrup since it is a highly processed sap that is almost all fructose. Your blood sugar will spike just as it would if you were consuming regular sugar or HFCS. Agave's meteoric rise in popularity is due to a great marketing campaign, but any health benefits present in the original agave plant are processed out.
The Anti-Aging Lifestyle
Of all the healthy lifestyle strategies I know of that can have a significant impact on your longevity, normalizing your insulin and leptin levels is probably the most important. Cutting out sugar and grains and increasing exercise are two effective ways to accomplish that.
But to truly optimize your longevity and slow down the clock, your entire lifestyle needs to be taken into account. So, here are the rest of my top "anti-aging" recommendations. Incorporating these healthy lifestyle guidelines will help set you squarely on the path to optimal health and give you the best shot at living a much longer life:
- Learn how to effectively cope with stress – Stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day, so developing effective coping mechanisms is a major longevity-promoting factor.
Meditation, prayer, physical activity and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium. I also strongly believe in using energy psychology tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to address deeper, oftentimes hidden emotional problems.
- Eat a healthy diet focused on whole, ideally organic, foods – My nutrition plan, based on natural whole foods, is your first step toward increasing your chances of living a longer, healthier life.
- Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels. This is another very powerful and inexpensive intervention that can have profound benefits on your health. In the summer you can do this for free by careful and safe sun exposure. In the winter a therapeutic level of oral vitamin D can be achieved with an oral supplement (around 8,000 units of vitamin D3 a day for most adults)
- Animal based omega-3 fats – Correcting the ratio of omega-3 to healthful omega-6 fats is a strong factor in helping you live longer. This typically means increasing your intake of animal based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil, while decreasing your intake of damaged omega-6 fats (think trans fats).
I do not, however, recommend the new prescription strength fish oil medication, sold under the name Lovaza. Don't be fooled by their "all-natural" PR campaign. This is actually a drug to treat very high triglyceride levels. However, as with most other drugs, Lovaza comes with potentially dangerous side effects that you would not experience with a natural fish oil or krill oil supplement. Side effects include flu-like symptoms, infections, back pain, skin rashes, upset stomach, taste changes, digestive issues, chest pain, migraines and respiratory problems!
Additionally, new research strongly suggests that 500 mg of krill oil is more potent and far less expensive.
- Get your antioxidants from foods –Good sources include blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, beans, and artichokes.
- Use coconut oil – Another excellent anti-aging food is coconut oil, known to reduce your risk of heart disease and lower your cholesterol, among other things. In fact, it's doubly beneficial because it can be both eaten and applied directly to your skin. Coconut oil can be used in place of other oils, margarine, butter, or shortening, and can be used for all your cooking needs.
- Get your resveratrol naturally – Resveratrol is one of the forerunners in the anti-aging pill race, but more than likely, by the time they've manipulated it into a synthetic pill (like the fish oil discussed above), it won't be healthy for you.
Although resveratrol is the antioxidant found in red wine, I can't recommend drinking wine in the hopes of extending your life because alcohol is a neurotoxin that can poison your brain and harm your body's delicate hormonal balance. Instead, get your resveratrol from natural sources, such as whole grape skins and seeds, raspberries, mulberries, and peanuts.
- Exercise regularly and smartly -- Studies repeatedly show that regular, moderate-to-vigorous exercise can help prevent or delay your onset of hypertension, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and the falls that lead to hip fracture. Although a lifetime of regular exercise is ideal, it's never too late to start. It's been shown that even individuals in their 70's can substantially increase both strength and endurance with exercise.
High-intensity, interval training can also increase longevity as this specific style of training promotes human growth hormone production – yet another aspect of the longevity puzzle.
- Avoid as many chemicals, toxins, and pollutants as possible – This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.
- Avoid pharmaceutical drugs – Pharmaceutical drugs kill thousands of people prematurely every year – as an expected side effect of the action of the drug. And, if you adhere to a healthy lifestyle, you most likely will never need any of them in the first place.
- i Dietary Advanced Glycation End Products and Aging,Nutrients. 2010 December; 2(12): 1247–1265