Glycation and its misbehaved children – Advanced glycation end products
You are made of proteins, all in different tiny tiny shapes that form your body parts from skin to hair to organs to hormones to enzymes to everything.
Crackly-coating your parts
These proteins, and some fats in your body, and nucleic acids (but we won’t go there) can become ‘sugar coated’ when the glucose in your blood sticks to them and sort of goes like a crispy layer, effectively stopping the protein from carrying out its function. The scientific term for this is glycation and the results of glycation are called Advanced Glycation End Products or AGEs, which is highly appropriate as they also advance the ageing process. The series of chemical reactions that lead to the formation of AGEs is called the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is responsible for the browning of tissue seen with ageing as well as the browning of food during cooking.
If you’ve ever had your blood sugar checked at the doctor’s you’ll have seen an HbA1c reading, essentially that shows how much sugar has been sticking to your red blood cells during the last three months (sugar sticking to protein). It’s more accurate than just testing the sugar in your urine, which is a snapshot. So you might think those biscuits had long gone but your cells have kept a record!
Anyway you really don’t want AGEs accumulating in your body because they create havoc – contributing to accelerated ageing, heart disease, dementia, kidney damage, chronic inflammation, poor skin and tissue health and general health decline. They mess with the proteins both inside and outside your cells, affecting tissues and cellular processes which are vital to health and longevity.
They also affect the membranes that surround each of your cells – these membranes need to be flexible and are made of fats and proteins, when these become glycated the cell membrane stiffens and the cell can’t let things in and out properly any more – bye bye cell… This kind of horror happens all over the place, like to the cells that line your blood vessels, or the collagen that gives your aorta structure, and we all know where blood vessel stiffness ends up.
AGEs are also a by-product of poorly managed diabetes and part of the reason for the damage diabetes inflicts on tissues, organs and eyesight.
Not so fun fact
Glycation plays a huge role in cataract formation. Urgh.
What to do
- Steer clear of excess sugar and refined carbs. That’s snacking on sweet foods and drinks, adding desserts to your meals, overeating white bread, pasta, white rice, crisps, rice cakes, ice cream, sweets etc, drinking heavily sweetened lattes and so on.
- Minimise foods such as barbecued meat, crisps, deep fried stuff or anything that is subjected to such high heat that it goes crispy and brown. That’s because you’ll be consuming AGEs that are already formed even before you eat them.
- Make sure you eat all your vegetables and plenty of them, and plenty of variety and colour. They not only contain fewer glycation-forming compounds but they take the place of glycation-forming foods – you stay full of veg and salad instead of pastries, biscuits, sweetened lattes, chocolate and toast. They also provide loads of glycation-fighting antioxidants that have been shown to hinder AGEs formation.
- Exercise a good few times a week. It controls your blood sugar, giving it a purpose (providing energy) instead of it hanging around sticking to all your bits.
Want the science boff detail on glycation?
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