The Sweet Truth
Research from the British Journal of Dermatology suggested that a sugar-loaded diet in people over age 35 can make skin dull and wrinkled. Yikes. That doesn’t bode well for my sweet tooth.
This recent study supports the findings of an older groundbreaking study that was conducted from 1989 to 1996 by researchers at the International Union of Nutritional Sciences Committee on Nutrition and Ageing called Food Habits in Later Life (FHILL), which aimed to find a link between diet and youthful-looking skin in people over age 70. The sample size of the study was large: 2000 people from Australian, China, Greece, Japan, and Sweden. What the scientists found was those who ate a low-sugar, largely plant-based diet that included vegetables, legumes, fruit, fish and olive oil had fewer skin wrinkling than those who ate a high-sugar diet with more processed food.
“Most of my clients are surprised to hear that eating sugar can sabotage your skin,” says Lisa Drayer, a New York-based registered dietitian.
The science: blame it on glycation. Drayer explains this skin-wrecking process in her book The Beauty Diet:
When blood sugar levels are high, sugar molecules can permanently bond to proteins, including the collagen in your skin. Known as glycation, this process produces chemical compounds called Advanced Glycation End products (AGES for short – fitting, right?) that cross-link with adjacent strands of protein. When this occurs, the strands of protein that support your skin can no longer move freely, making tissues stiff and inflexible. This makes skin tougher, saggier, and more wrinkled. Glycation and cross-linking also can cause inflammatory responses.
Allison Tannis, M.S., R.H.N, a registered holistic nutritionist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and author of Feed Your Skin, Starve Your Wrinkles further explains that “inflammation causes damage to cells and structures in the body, including the skin. Areas of the skin that have repeated use and damage are more inclined to wrinkle, as their use and damage results in reduction in the skin’s integrity and structure – meaning that collagen, elastin and other structural components are not repaired the same and the skin begins to sag and wrinkle.”
But the research is not strong…
“There is no direct link, it’s just a theory,” says Tannis. So if the connection between stuffing your face with sweets and looking like a withered grape isn’t strong, then why do some skin care manufactures make AGES seem like an immanent threat?
Lately, fighting the signs of glycation (with some kind of antioxidant) has become somewhat of a buzz phrase on anti-aging products. Case in point: Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum claims that its green tea and niacinamide help minimize skin yellowing caused by glycation.
I asked one of my straight-shooting dermatologist sources (who wanted to wanted to remain anonymous, as to not offend certain companies). Here’s what he said, “It is a giant leap to say that what you ingest is proven to be related to the degree of glycation and furthermore to wrinkling. After all there is glucose/fructose, even in healthy foods like fruits and whole grains! So I generally advocate a healthy diet with exercise to be as anti-aging as possible but I don’t know what impact that has, if any on wrinkling. I look forward to more science before telling my patients to avoid sugar to minimize wrinkles! However, we know and have proven scientifically, that sun exposure is still the biggest controllable risk factor for aging/wrinkled skin.”
The bottom line
Sugar is not your skin’s public enemy #1 – not wearing sunscreen every day is. However keep in mind that excess sugar consumption can lead to many other nasty outcomes such as obesity-related liver disease (which can cause yellowing of the skin!) cavities, liver disease, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So eat sweet treats the way they’re meant to be eaten: once in awhile! And don’t buy into the anti-glycation claim on skin care products, just yet. Spend your money on a good sunscreen and use it all year long. It’s the undisputed anti-ager.
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