It is well known that increased consumption of sugar and fat is a major dietary change brought about by the plethora of products offered by the industry, playing to the uncontrollable sensory desires of the consumer who can afford, being more and more affluent with higher disposable incomes. Scientific endeavors in the field of nutrition and health were always focused more on relation between food and over weight syndromes than the potential for food to influence the aging process. Preventing on-set of diseases like CVD, BP, Diabetes, Cancer and others through optimal and balanced diets, will of course ensure normal progress to old age. Similarly food can also hasten aging if not properly balanced or the diet is not moderated preventing excess consumption of some food components. Longevity depends on many factors and no single explanation can bring clarity to this issue.
Implication of sugars in health disorders is by now well established. Role of liquid calories in weight control was discussed in an earlier blog. Similarly wide spread consumption of corn based HFCS through a plethora of formulated food and beverages is widely believed to be one of the important causative factors for obesity. Maintaining blood sugar levels, even for a normal healthy person, free from diseases, is considered critical for preserving cognitive health. Hippocampically challenged state can develop during progressive aging, causing lapses in memory and rising blood sugar level during aging process is partly responsible for this phenomenon. Decreasing brain function in one area of hippocampus called dentate gyrus is the main contributor for declining memory condition and its connection with rising blood sugar level is well established. A decline in blood glucose can increase dentate gyrus function and consequently improve the cognitive function.
In simulation studies using yeast cells it has been found that over consumption of sugar is directly linked to aging. The life span of these cells was adversely affected by their ability to sense the presence of sugar in the medium. The specific gene responsible for the glucose sensor, when removed from the cells, they lived longer, similar to those cells which grow under glucose starved conditions (calorie restriction regime). In all higher living beings calorie uptake involves two aspects viz tasting and digestion. Before nutrients can reach the cells, there is an analogous process in which sensors on the surface of the cell detect the presence of glucose where upon the glucose inside the cell is broken down. The by-products of such break- down process are believed to be responsible, at least partly for aging. In humans when sugar is consumed, the absorbed sugar rushes to through the blood stream and insulin is promptly released in an attempt to keep the blood sugar level stable. Excess insulin is known to cause fat storage besides contributing to diseases like asthma, arthritis, gallstone, tooth decay, elevated triglycerides linked to CVD and suppression of immune system.
Higher levels of sugar in the blood eventually make proteins stick to gether thereby damaging the function of the proteins. Excess sugar can react, especially with proteins such as Collagen in the skin which may lead to brown "splotches" or age spots on the skin as well as loss of elasticity causing premature wrinkling . Sugar damaged, dangerously cross-linked proteins known as Advanced Glycation End products (AGE) can wreak havoc in all body tissues and lead to untimely aging. There are special enzymes in the body which do break down such potentially dangerous mattrix of glycated proteins continuously up to a limit but when glucose levels attain high values in the blood, equilibrium shifts to more AGE products formation. Use of Alpha Lipoic Acid, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Chromium and Taurine are claimed o be effective to varying extent in preventing AGE formation through different mechanisms. But the most effective way of preventing premature aging is through exercising self-control on high sugar consumption in the daily diet. It is not for nothing that the health experts preach replacement of simple sugars in the food with complex carbohydrates which prevent sudden glucose build up in the blood and help keeping the relentless onslaught of aging at bay.