Here in South Florida, I see lots of patients with leathery, wrinkled skin. Even though the sun down here can be a powerful healing agent, too much of a good thing can damage skin.
But over the past few years, I’ve noticed something strange. Patients with no sun damage or other risk factors are looking a lot older than their age.
I know these patients. They don’t smoke. They wear hats or sunscreen when the sun is high. But they’re still developing deep wrinkles that make them look years older.
What’s going on? Looking at their lab work, I solved the puzzle. These patients all had one thing in common. At first I was surprised. But as I thought it over, it makes perfect sense.
They all had elevated blood sugar levels. In other words, high blood sugar was giving them wrinkles and making them look old.
In fact, years of sugar and refined carbohydrates can be more damaging to your skin than years of sun bathing.
How Your Sweet Tooth Ages Your Face
Sugar prematurely ages your skin through a chemical process called “glycation.” When blood sugar levels become very high, sugar molecules bind to proteins. These sugar-protein combinations are known as “advanced glycation end-products,” or “AGEs.”
AGEs can affect all organs and tissues in your body. They trigger damaging inflammation. In your eyes, they can cause cataracts. When they affect the skin, they cause premature aging.
You see, collagen and elastin are proteins that keep your skin firm and elastic. When sugar attaches to these proteins, it forms AGEs. Damaged collagen is no longer springy. Damaged elastin loses its resilience. And the AGEs prevent the collagen and elastin from repairing themselves.
Glycation starts in your mid-30s. At that age, your body is still producing lots of collagen to combat the effects of sugar and junk food. But as you age, eating more sugar speeds up the rate of glycation. Your collagen and elastin regeneration slows down. Your skin becomes dry, brittle and rigid. Instead of supple, smooth skin, you notice bags and wrinkles.
Studies show the higher your blood sugar levels, the older you look. Researchers in the Netherlands photographed 669 people without makeup or hairstyling products. Then 60 independent observers assessed how old the subjects looked.
The group with the highest blood glucose levels was perceived to be over a year older than the group with the lowest levels. And for each point their glucose levels rose, the peoplelooked 4.8 months older.1 That can add years to your face pretty quickly.
Clean Up Your Diet to Reduce Wrinkles and Signs of Aging
Sugar is one of the worst threats to your skin. Of course, when I talk about sugar, I’m not just talking about a teaspoon in your coffee, or a soda, or a piece of candy.
I’m also talking about refined carbohydrates that rapidly turn to sugar in your body. That includes cereals, bread, crackers, pasta, donuts, cookies, pizza, chips, and pretzels. In other words, reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet.
To keep your skin young and supple, load up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Foods like apples and leafy greens are full of antioxidants that fight glycation. Other good sources of anti-aging antioxidants are cranberries, blueberries, walnuts, and green tea.
What else can you do? Make sure you’re getting enough thiamin (vitamin B1). Thiamin helps process the carbohydrates you eat. It helps your body’s cells convert carbs into energy before that sugar can form AGEs. All you need is 1.5 mg per day.
In addition, get your tocotrienols. These are a group of 4 nutrients contained in vitamin E. They’ve been shown to reduce the AGEs in your body. But most vitamin E supplements only contain tocopherols. Make sure you find one that contains tocotrienols.
Finally, eat a Brazil nut. Selenium helps your body make glutathione, a powerful antioxidant. Cell studies show selenium can eradicate AGEs. Just one Brazil nut gives you more than the 55 mcg a day you need.
1. Noordam R et al, High serum glucose levels are associated with a higher perceived age. Age (Dordr). 2013 Feb;35(1):189-95. Pubmed 22102339