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How Sugar Makes Us Age

By September 9, 2019 No Comments

I’ve told you that elevated blood sugar levels are bad for you. I’ve told you that dia- betics don’t live as long as other people and that very few centenarians are dia- betics—but I didn’t tell you why. It’s because of the adverse effect that blood sugar elevations have on our body’s organs. The process whereby sugar does that is called glycosylation. Once you know how glycosylation can hurt you, you may never enjoy another dessert again. The process has been well researched, but it’s not widely known among the general public, so let me take some time to explain it to you.

Sugar is sticky, as you discover every time you spill some and have to wipe it up. When there’s extra sugar floating around in your bloodstream, its sticky glucose molecules attach themselves to proteins. It’s that attaching process that is known as glycosylation or, sometimes, glycation. When glycosylation happens in places where it doesn’t belong, it sets in motion a slow chain of chemical reactions that ends with the proteins binding together, or cross-linking, and forming a new chem- ical structure. The brilliant biochemist Anthony Cerami, who discovered the gly- cosylation process in living tissue, gave these new structures a very apt name: Ad- vanced Glycosylation End-products, or AGEs.

I’ve told you that elevated blood sugar levels are bad for you. I’ve told you that dia- betics don’t live as long as other people and that very few centenarians are dia- betics—but I didn’t tell you why. It’s because of the adverse effect that blood sugar elevations have on our body’s organs. The process whereby sugar does that is called glycosylation. Once you know how glycosylation can hurt you, you may never enjoy another dessert again. The process has been well researched, but it’s not widely known among the general public, so let me take some time to explain it to you.

Collagen is one of the first proteins to be affected. Collagen is the tough but flex- ible connective tissue that holds your skeleton together, attaching your muscles to your bones and serving as the foundation of all your blood vessels, your skin, your lungs, and your cartilage. When collagen becomes glycosylated and AGEs form, the cross-linking destroys collagen’s flexibility. This means that your blood vessels, lungs, and joints all stiffen; your skin sags; the proteins in the lens of your eye cloud over, resulting in cataracts.

Other proteins are also affected by AGEs. For example, glucose easily combines with the protein hemoglobin in your blood. In fact, that potential combination is the basis of a valuable blood test for diabetes, called glycosylated hemoglobin (GHb). GHb measures your blood sugar average over several consecutive months and can tell us how much AGEing you have done over that time span.

AGEs also affect the more than 50,000 different proteins your body makes to regulate how it functions. For example, your body produces antioxidant enzymes that protect you against free radicals. When glucose attaches to these enzymes, they become inactive; the AGEs destroy the mechanism that produces these en- zymes. As we’ll see in more detail in the following chapter, even slight elevations in your blood sugar are enough to produce excess free radicals—more than your body can cope with. Indeed, the overabundance of free radicals is one of the pri- mary reasons for the accelerated aging often seen in diabetics. And because vita- min C is carried into your cells along with insulin, one consequence of even slight insulin resistance is that you’ll have less of this powerful antioxidant in your cells.

Other proteins are part of complex chemical cascades that send messages around your body, turning genes on and off, repairing damage, and controlling the growth and replication of cells. When these controlling proteins are damaged by AGEs, the chemical messages become garbled or fail to get through at all. When that happens, the proper functioning of the cell is disrupted, and that in turn caus- es further disruption down the message line. If the disruption causes a gene to switch on or off inappropriately, or if it tells a cell to replicate when it shouldn’t, the result can set in motion the process that leads to cancer and other problems.

It’s possible that AGEs can even bind directly to the DNA in a cell’s nucleus. Al- though the process would happen very slowly, over the long run it would cause serious damage in cells that don’t reproduce, such as those in your heart and brain.

Sticky AGEs also tend to form clumps of cross-linked proteins that are very sim- ilar to the tangles and plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Indeed, AGEs have been found in these plaques at about three times the level in normal brains, suggesting that they are responsible, at least in part, for the progression of this dreadful disease.

When glucose attaches to the tiny protein molecules known as peptides, the re- sulting AGEs end up circulating in your blood. This can have an adverse effect on your blood lipids, because the AGE-modified peptides may then attach to mole- cules of LDL cholesterol. When that happens, as recent research suggests, the body fails to recognize this new substance as LDL. As a result, the LDL stays in circulation instead of being removed from your blood as part of the normal clear- ance process. This explains in part why diabetics have such dangerously high lev- els of LDL cholesterol—all the extra sugar in their blood leads to high levels of circulating AGEs.

Your body does have some natural defenses against AGEs. At least one type of scavenger cell in your immune system engulfs and destroys AGEs, but the process doesn’t seem to be very efficient, and it slows down even more with age. Your an- tioxidant enzymes may also play a part in keeping AGEs to a minimum.

Interestingly, AGEs may explain the beneficial effect on the heart of having a daily cocktail or glass of wine. The alcohol seems to block the formation of some AGEs at an intermediate stage in the process, keeping them from building up inside your arteries and damaging your LDL cholesterol.

—  Taken From Dr Atkins Age-Defying Diet Revolution: Feel Great, Live Longer

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