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Glycation: a chemical reaction that contributes to skin ageing

What does this weird word glycation mean? It’s close in spelling to the word glucose, and this should come as no surprise, as glycation results from the body’s response to sugar, which the ubiquity of “junk food” has made increasingly significant. Read on and learn more about this phenomenon and how best to mitigate its skin-ageing effects.

Glycation and skin ageing
© Thinkstock

French nutritionist, nutritional therapist and phytotherapist Valérie Espinasse helps us uncover the mysteries of glycation. What is it? Where does it come from? What does it do? How to slow it down? Our skin ageing prevention specialist provides all the answers to your questions.

Glycation is a dietary process

Glycation (or its more technical term, non-enzymatic glycosylation) is a chemical reaction that occurs, in this case, at the heart of the dermis. Glucose molecules (sugar, that is) contained in what we eat interact with protein molecular structure, thereby causing dermis disruption. The glycation process also produces larger proteins, known as “glycated proteins”, which are detrimental to the body on account of their inability to be destroyed or evacuated by it.

What are the effects of glycation?

As we grow older, glycated proteins build up in our cells and end up destroying the skin's support mattress formed by collagen and elastin. In other words, glucose wraps itself around collagen and elastin fibres, which rigidify and can break overtime. This very slow process affects all of the body’s proteins over the course of life and is unfortunately irreversible.

It is therefore important to combat glycation early on and prevent it from incrementally damaging the subcutaneous tissue supporting the dermis and diminishing its elasticity and rigidity. Wrinkles appear and dig deeper and deeper into the outer skin while hydration decreases.   

A healthy diet for a healthy skin

You can be 40 and still have a glowing complexion with only a few wrinkles here and there if you maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s equally possible to be heavily wrinkled and flabby at age 45 if you don’t take proper care of your body. Combating glycation is very simple provided you take care of yourself and choose the right diet.

So, if you want to avoid glycation and its more than undesirable effects, you should steam your food, or cook it slowly. Have a look at a couple of our steamed recipes: Chinese-style steamed bass and Steamed aubergine salad.

Forget about grilling or cooking food in over 180 degrees heat, and cut high-fat sauces out of your diet. Favour raw foods, such as fruits and vegetables, which are particularly rich in antioxidants and help prevent the production of glycated proteins by the body.

Needless to say that sweets, cakes and simple sugars should be avoided or kept to a minimum. In short, eat a healthy diet and remember that there aren’t ‘better’ foods than others, it’s just the way and quantity in which you consume them that determines which are the healthiest for you.

The effectiveness of anti-ageing diets for the skin increases the more you eat raw foods, and the less cooked they are. Most importantly, you should drink large amounts of water. People often forget this, but water, and especially mineral water, stimulates collagen fibres and skin elasticity. It also hydrates the inside and as a consequence the outside of your body.

L-carnosine to thwart glycation

L-carnosine, which was identified over a century ago, is a powerful antioxidant naturally present in the human brain, heart, stomach, kidneys, skin and muscles. It is made up of two amino acids and is derived from food digestion. L-carnosine has been praised for its benefits in preventing skin ageing. Its most significant effect is anti-glycation: carnosine acts on sugar molecules by causing them to bind to the carnosine instead of the collagen fibres, thereby reducing protein glycation.

In preventing tissue from rigidifying, carnosine helps preserve the suppleness and elasticity of the skin’s support mattress, making it better equipped to withstand everyday abuse and postponing the formation of new wrinkles.

Natural L-carnosine levels reduce with age, so to keep the supply going you need to make sure you eat enough animal-based proteins. Carosine can also be taken as a dietary supplement and is often found in multivitamin supplements.

Source: interview with Valérie Espinasse

Posted 25.01.2011

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