Want to slow down the ravages of time? Slash your AGEs

Want to slow down the ravages of  time? Then it may be time to slash your AGEs. No –  we’re not talking about fibbing about your date of birth  or plastic surgery to look younger but the lessening of the effects of harmful substances known as  AGEs or  advanced glycation end products.  And according to accumulating scientific evidence,   they are potential culprits for a host of common afflictions affecting people as they age.

Diabetes, heart disease and stroke, kidney disease and even Alzheimer’s have been linked to this class of toxins.

These compounds  are not only produced by some people but can also be consumed through the foods you eat. Considering what science is now showing about AGEs, finding ways to lower levels in the body is critical.

Researchers are discovering that these compounds may boost the risk of disease in diverse ways. For one, they’ve been shown to speed up oxidative damage and, as a result, are known as pro-oxidants. That’s the opposite of antioxidants which may stave off assorted diseases.  Oxidative damage is known to raise the odds of  a variety of ills such as artery damage and cognitive decline.

Inflammation,  a process is connected to a range of adverse health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s,  is another of  the harmful consequences of AGEs.

But there’s much more potential for harm that can arise from these substances, especially in those at risk for diabetes or those with the disease
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AGEs are now thought to boost the likelihood of developing insulin resistance – a condition where the hormone insulin doesn’t do its job of regulating blood sugar adequately. If insulin resistance worsens, then blood sugar readings can rise and type 2 diabetes can result. But here’s kicker in terms of diabetes – AGEs are produced when blood sugar levels climb, as can be the case in diabetes. And science is connecting high levels of these offensive substances with almost every complication of diabetes – from eye problems like retinopathy to nerve damage and  kidney disease.

To make matters worse, when kidney function declines as it can in both those with diabetes or increasing age, the clearance of AGEs decreases. It’s definitely  a vicious cycle.

But it’s not just those with diabetes on their medical radar that can end up with high readings of AGEs in their blood. Various foods and preparation methods  can raise levels substantially.  It’s yet another reason to be an enlightened eater.

Scientific investigations have revealed that these  toxins are absorbed into the body when you eat  animal products, such as meats and cheeses  prepared using high temperature cooking  such as grilling, frying or broiling.

Research from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, published in the  Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, found that AGE levels are elevated in the blood of healthy people, and even more so in older individuals than in younger people. The study included 172 healthy subjects who were divided into two age groups—those between the ages of 18 and 45 and those between the ages of 60 and 80. The researchers not only wanted to evaluate  AGE- age links but also to assess whether AGE levels were associated with dietary intake.

The subjects’ blood tests showed that AGE levels were 35 percent higher in individuals age 65 and older compared with those younger than age 45.  This goes along with the thinking that the older you get, the harder it is for your body to clear these compounds and is likely due to a decrease in kidney function that may partner with increasing age.

The study also showed that in all of the study subjects, the greater the consumption of AGEs-laden foods, the higher the blood levels of AGEs along with higher readings of C-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation. Elevated C-reactive protein is now thought to be  a  risk factor for heart disease.

An excessive intake of fried, broiled, and grilled foods may overload the body’s natural capacity to remove AGEs, allowing them to accumulate. Senior author, Helen Vlassara, MD, suggests that people should know about their AGE intake and be advised to consider their intake in the same way they would think about their trans fats and salt intake.
So it’s not just older people who need be concerned about AGEs.

While for young people, fried food, fast food burgers and the like are more common suppliers of AGEs, grilled options – thought to be fat-smart choices- may be a source for healthy eaters.   Though grilling and broiling    can result in the fat in a food to drip off, AGEs are still produced. And then there’s  frying which not only provides more fat but these toxic compounds to boot.  Instead consider varying  food preparation techniques  by poaching, steaming or stewing selections.   Be sure to boost the seasonings as low temperature cooking doesn’t result in the same browning effect (which is how  AGEs are produced) which provides flavour to grilled foods.

But rather than banishing some of these cooking methods from your menu, consider including plenty of antioxidant-rich options alongside to counter the oxidation. – yet another reason to keep up your fruit, vegetable and whole grain intake.

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Next up: ways to reduce your intake of AGEs.

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Categories: Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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