Sugar and ageing

Linking blood sugar levels with youthful looks

Sugar is getting a great deal of bad press of late, and here’s some more… A new study has, for the first time, established a direct link has been between the amount of sugar circulating in the blood and how old a person looks.

Scientists from the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, and Unilever in the UK, measured the blood sugar levels of 600 men and women aged between 50 and 70.

They then showed photographs of these people to a board of 60 independent assessors and found that those with higher blood sugar looked older than those with lower blood sugar. In fact for every 1mm/litre increase in blood sugar, the perceived age of that person rose by five months.

“We took into account other factors such as whether or not that person smoked and yet still the effects were clear – the higher the blood glucose, the older the person looked,” says Dr David Gunn, a senior scientist at Unilever who helped conduct the trial.

“Those who looked the oldest of all were the diabetics in the group. Because of their condition, they will have had the high levels of glucose for a long period of time.

“While there’s extensive research showing that high blood sugar levels are bad for health, this is the first time that the link with facial ageing has been made. There are known routes through which high glucose could influence facial ageing, but we need further research to identify the true underlying cause.”

This study – published in the Journal of the American Aging Association (AGE) – was conducted as part of the Netherlands Consortium for Healthy Ageing initiative which aims to understand how health can be preserved as individuals age.

The research paper is available at

Skin experts concur

The skin experts agree, according to a report in the Daily Mail. A diet high in sugar is a disaster for the face.

“There is no point in spending lots of money on expensive skin creams if you are eating a diet high in sugar,” says Dr Aamer Khan, a cosmetic dermatologist who is also medical director of the Harley Street Skin Clinic.

“Yes, you can protect and moisturise your skin from the outside with creams, but you need to feed and stimulate the growth of good strong skin cells from inside too and sugar will sabotage that.”

Well, the problem with sugar is that it makes the skin lose the plump, elastic qualities that underlie a youthful appearance.

“This is due to a process called glycation,” explains Dr Ross Perry, a cosmetic doctor at the Cosmedics clinic in London. Essentially what happens is that sugar attaches itself to any protein in the body and produces harmful molecules called “advanced glycation end products”.

These reduce the effectiveness of elastin and collagen, proteins in the skin that help maintain its youthful appearance.

“Normally collagen bulks out the skin and gives it a younger plump look,” says Dr Perry. “Elastin gives the skin recoil so that when you smile or frown your skin goes back to how it was.

“If you persistently eat a high-sugar diet, then as a result, the collagen and elastin will become more rigid, so it will become easier for wrinkles to form and the skin will lose that youthful plumpness. It also makes it harder for the cells in the skin to repair normal damage.”

A high-sugar diet reduces the quality of the collagen in the skin, too. “There are different types of collagen, known as I, II and III, and for healthy looking-skin you need the correct blend of all of these,” says Dr Perry. “Sugar encourages type III collagen to become type I which is more brittle. Consequently, the skin breaks down and looks thinner and more wrinkly. It also becomes more prone to the damaging effects of the environment and UV rays.”

A 2007 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that these ageing effects typically start at age 35 and increase rapidly after that.

So how easy is it to cut sugar from your diet? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as resisting the lure of the biscuit tin, according to Dr Khan. Any food with a high glycaemic index – which means that it is quickly broken down into sugars by the body – will cause a spike in blood glucose, the same as a sugar “fix”.

 “Sugar should be avoided altogether and refined carbohydrates, things like cakes, biscuits and white bread, should be kept to a minimum,” he says.

 Instead, stick to lower GI options such as brown rice, pasta and bread. The aim should be to ensure that sugar makes up less than ten percent of your total diet.

 “How much you can tolerate before glycation occurs depends on your age, metabolism and how much you exercise,” he says. “If you’re an active 25-year-old, your body can tolerate more sugar than if you are a sedentary 45-year-old.”

 The good news is if you change your ways and cut down on sugar, you should quickly see benefits.

 “The skin may seem less dry within days,” says Dr Khan.

 The other good bit of news is that the odd treat here and there is unlikely to do too much harm….

 UK Daily Mail: Read the full article