As I turn 50 this month, I have to admit, the concept of being ageless is rather appealing. I would love to know how to age less. One way of minimizing the impact of aging is by decreasing AGEs. Rather than referring to the lapse of time, AGEs are molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). They are also referred to as glycotoxins. Typically, our bodies make them in limited amounts. We also ingest a considerable amount.
Our standard American diet typically contains high levels of AGEs. AGEs are considered toxins that have been linked to cardiovascular, liver, kidney, and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as diabetes. AGEs are naturally present in uncooked animal-derived foods that are high in fat and protein, such as red meat and cheese. Dry cooking—broiling, grilling, frying, searing, and roasting—these foods results in the formation of additional AGEs, raising the levels from 10-100 times over that of uncooked food.
The body can take care of the AGEs that are part of normal metabolism. However, if excessively high levels of AGEs are reached, they can cause diseases. In fact, research has found AGEs impact some of our most common disease processes and health concerns. AGEs promote oxidative stress and inflammation by binding with cell surface receptors (RAGEs) or cross-linking with body proteins, altering their structure and function. It has been found that a high concentration of AGEs in a meal increases circulation of AGEs in the body.
Excessive consumption of AGEs increases the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. In one study, overweight women who ate foods cooked at high temperatures had much higher markers of insulin resistance compared to the markers of those who ate foods that were mostly boiled or steamed.1
Lowering dietary AGE intake has potential to improve sensitivity to the action of insulin, improve blood sugar levels, and reduce inflammation. On top of that, individuals with diabetes produce more AGEs in their bodies as a result of chronically elevated blood sugar levels and enhanced oxidative stress. So, AGEs have a significant role in the development of the vascular complications of diabetes.
As a result of AGE accumulation, individuals with diabetes are at a greater risk for the development and progression of cardiovascular disease. AGEs cause accelerated atherosclerotic plaque formation.2 Several clinical and experimental studies support the view that AGEs might play a significant role in the development and progression of heart failure.3
AGEs are thought to contribute to the development of chronic kidney disease. Data indicates that AGE content in the diet, independent of other diet constituents, results in excess serum AGE levels in patients with renal failure and is therefore a contributor to the cardiovascular disease in this population. Diet-derived AGEs are major contributors to the total body AGE pool. Consuming a low-AGE diet for two weeks resulted in improved kidney function and reduced inflammation in overweight and obese individuals.4
Mice fed a high-fructose, high-cholesterol diet (so high in AGEs), were found to have increased markers of liver injury. The researchers state that modulating dietary AGEs could slow the progression of fatty liver.5
The most effective ways to reduce AGE levels in the body include managing blood sugar levels, quitting smoking, and reducing dietary AGE consumption.
Some foods are naturally high in AGEs. Animal-derived foods that are high in fat and protein are generally AGE-rich and prone to new AGE formation, especially during high-heat cooking. In contrast, carbohydrate-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains contain relatively few AGEs, even after cooking.
Another effective way to reduce the intake of AGEs is to modify cooking methods. Unlike dry heat cooking methods, boiling, steaming, and poaching foods drastically reduce AGEs. Even lean red meats and poultry contain high levels of AGEs when cooked under dry heat. For example, boiled beef contains 1,538 kU/100g of AGEs. In contrast, roasted or BBQ beef contains 18,520 kU/100g. Roasted pork contains 3,544 kU/100g, whereas fried bacon contains 91,557 kU/100g! Boiled salmon contains 1,082 kU/100 g of AGE content, but if you broil it, you increase its AGE content to 4,334 kU/100g. Parmesan cheese contains nearly 5,000 kU/30g while cheddar cheese contains 1,500 kU for the same amount of cheese. Butter contains 9 times more AGEs than an avocado and 4 times more than margarine. Foods high in AGEs include processed and fried foods; grilled, broiled, barbecued meat; fats (cheese, butter, margarine); and sugary baked desserts. Cigarette smoking is another source of AGEs.6
The use of acidic ingredients such as lemon juice reduces AGE levels. Cooking at lower temperatures for longer periods of time does as well.
Restricting AGEs from the diet has the potential to reduce vascular and kidney dysfunction, improve insulin sensitivity, accelerate wound healing, block the progression of atherosclerosis and renal injury, and reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. In mice studies, low dietary AGE intake has had the same impact on lengthening lifespan as calorie reduction.7
Aging, from the perspective of maturing, has its definite benefits. “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, If it is found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31). In the context of infirmities however, it is better to be AGE-less. I believe by healthy living, eating, and thinking, continuing to dream dreams, pursue connectivity, and fighting the battles of the Lord, we will truly AGE-less.
- A. Mark, et al., “Consumption of a Diet Low in Advanced Glycation End Products for 4 Weeks Improves Insulin Sensitivity in Overweight Women,” Diabetes Care, 2014;37(1):88-95, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/37/1/88.
- K. Jandeleit-Dahm, & M.E. Cooper, “The role of AGEs in cardiovascular disease,” Curr Pharm Des, 2008, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18473849.
- Zeinab Hegab, et al., “Role of advanced glycation end products in cardiovascular disease,” World Journal of Cardiology, Apr 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3342583.
- B.E. Harcourt, et al., “Targeted reduction of advanced glycation improves renal function in obesity,” Kidney Int., Jul 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21412218.
- C. Leung, et al., “Dietary advanced glycation end-products aggravate non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” World Journal of Gastroenterology, Sept 21, 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27672297.
- C. Prasad, et al., “Lifestyle and Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) Burden: Its Relevance to Healthy Aging,” Aging and Disease, 2014, http://www.aginganddisease.org/EN/10.14336/AD.2014.0500212.
- J. Uribarri, et al., “Advanced glycation end products in foods and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, June 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20497781.
Risë Rafferty, RDN
Risë is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and has been writing and teaching about health for many years. She loves the health message and takes great pleasure in seeing people thrive by the application of its principles. Her research and down-to-earth manner allow her to offer up the health message in both an intelligent and accessible manner. She and her husband, James Rafferty, have two children.