Mothers across the nation will likely be warning their costume-clad youngsters that they’ll “feel sick” if they eat too much of the candy they collect tonight. What they may not mention is that foods that raise blood sugar can also cause wrinkles, an effect dermatologist Rajani Katta calls “sugar sag.” I caught up with Katta to learn a little more about the effects of sugar on the skin.
“Sugar sag” can occur when elevated blood sugar levels cause the skin to lose elasticity. Although this elasticity will inevitably be lost as a person ages, foods that raise blood sugar can speed up the loss.
Physicians have long known that the effects of high blood sugar in diabetics can promote premature aging of the skin, Katta explained via email.
“In recent years, though, there's been more of an awareness among physicians that these effects can occur even in those without diabetes,” said Katta.
High blood sugar promotes the cross-linking of collagen fibers in the skin through a process called glycation, which results in the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). As these AGEs build up, the skin undergoes structural changes that lead to decreased elasticity and greater stiffness.
It’s not just tonight’s Halloween candy that can raise your blood sugar and lead to wrinkles, however. Other foods made of simple carbohydrates, such as soda or white bread can contribute to the formation of wrinkle-causing AGEs. Foods can also contain pre-existing AGEs in varying levels. Foods cooked at high temperatures, such as foods that are fried, have higher levels of AGEs than other foods, according to Katta, who is a professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine.
“If a person with elevated blood sugar also eats fried foods, then, they’d be taking an extra hit to their collagen,” said Katta.
Elevated blood sugar also appears to amplify the effects of UV radiation and smoking, two other factors known to play a role in wrinkling.
What’s Katta’s prescription for preventing “sugar sag”?
First, she suggests cutting down on foods that already contain AGEs—think foods that are barbecued or fried. Instead, load up on fruits and vegetables.
Next, serve up some spice.
“While human studies are lacking, there’s significant evidence from laboratory studies to recommend the use of spices and herbs,” Katta said. “In lab studies, multiple spices and herbs inhibited glycation, including cinnamon, rosemary, cloves and ginger.”
Finally, fill up your mug. Laboratory studies have also suggested components of green tea can work against the wrinkle-causing glycation process.