Glycation End Products: On How Sugar Alters Metabolism

Glycation is how glucose or fructose molecules bind to proteins and fats in the human body, causing changes in them.

The result is the “end products of glycation” AGA is a term that may sound complex but reveals the modern understanding of the process of the effect of sugar on aging. In particular on the deterioration of the skin and the cardiovascular system.

AGEs usually are formed through various short-term and long-term chemical steps. The process modifies lipids, proteins, and DNA, and their formation is favored with hyperglycemia and age. (7)

For example, it is known that glycation end products can significantly increase the destructive power of the sun’s rays or alter the metabolism of the amino acid arginine, which controls the work of the body’s vascular vessels.

Glycation: what is it?

Strictly speaking, glycation is a nonenzymatic chemical reaction during which sugar residues bind to organic molecules, usually proteins. This is how glycation end products (AGEs) are formed.

From a chemical point of view, glycation consists of the union of primary amino groups of amino acids, peptides, and proteins with the carbonyl group of reducing sugars, of which glucose is the most abundant in the body. The greater the hyperglycemia, the greater the reaction. (6)

Although these processes happen all the time in the body after a person reaches 35 years of age, scientists have noticed a solid tendency to accelerate them; the accumulation of glycation end products is an activator of the aging process and cellular failure.

Glycation is more common in people who consume large amounts of refined carbohydrates. To limit glycation processes, it is necessary to strictly control the consumption of glucose, sucrose, and fructose – not exceeding 50 g per day. The end products of glycation are also found in food, such as meat fried at high temperatures. (5)

Sugar, glucose, fructose, and AGEs

Statistics show that a modern adult consumes around 150 g of sugar per day, and among teenagers, the figure reaches 250 g. (2) Interestingly, only a tiny proportion is consumed in added sugar, and the vast majority is consumed in ready-made sweet and industrial foods.

Carbonated beverages, reconstituted fruit juices, ice cream, candy, pre-baked cakes, and other desserts are other vital sources of poor-quality carbohydrates. They contain sugar and fructose syrup, an industrial derivative of corn.

The human body is not adapted to consume large doses of fructose (usually, it can only process a few grams with fruits); as a result, metabolic processes are disturbed. At high glucose concentrations, fructose in the blood accumulates a more significant amount of glycation end products.

Glycation and aging

An excess of sweets and sugar in the diet (and therefore the body’s production of large amounts of glycation end products) is associated with the aging of all organs. However, the negative effect is more noticeable on the skin.

Collagen and elastin are the types of proteins most vulnerable to the destructive processes of glycation. In a healthy body, they keep the skin elastic and are responsible for the elasticity of the tissues, but by the age of 35, the body already lacks about 15% collagen, and at 45, more than 30%.

Excess sugar also leads to a change in collagen structure: it becomes more rigid (going from type 1 collagen to type 3 collagen). The result is the tightening of the skin and the appearance of wrinkles.

The importance of the solar factor

Scientists also point out¹ that glycation processes increase when ultraviolet rays hit the skin, that is, when sunbathing. This refers to the glycation of the elastic fiber network or solar elastosis tissue.

In the case of facial skin, studies show that ultraviolet rays are responsible for 90% of the skin damage that leads to premature aging. Fortunately, the use of sunscreen significantly reduces the damage.

Glycation and DNA

Nonenzymatic glycation can also affect DNA. It has been shown to have mutagenic effects and permanently compromise the integrity of genetic information. (7)

The result: activating the response to DNA damage, the alteration of cell functions appears, and in some cases, it can induce cell death. In addition, it is thought that there is a mechanism for DNA damage and inefficient repair of normal aging.

To top it off, excess sugar in the diet leads to chronically high insulin levels. The hormone is responsible for using glucose and converting it into energy. Chronically high levels of insulin production lead to insulin resistance, that is, loss of tissue sensitivity to its action.

Then the snowball begins: prediabetes, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and visceral obesity usually appear. Among other things, eating a lot of refined carbohydrates leads to sodium retention in the body, which, in turn, causes an increase in blood pressure. The final stage is metabolic syndrome (severe obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure).

The benefits of intermittent fasting

Yes, glycation can negatively affect our bodies. But how do we solve it? It’s not just about eating better and giving up sugar, but other methods like intermittent fasting could be a solution to the problem.

The benefits of intermittent fasting are based on increasing the speed of getting rid of accumulated “waste” in cells (in particular, faulty proteins and organelles. This process is called autophagy and is directly dependent on the energy level in the body.

When energy is low, and the cell is hungry, it destroys damaged or old proteins with greater intensity, turning them into a source of energy. In short, it renews the body. Also, intermittent fasting normalizes the body’s response to insulin.

RELATED: Intermittent Fasting – Menu


Glycation is a term that reveals the harm of excessive consumption of sugar and other difficult-to-process foods for our body. Refined carbohydrates can have a destructive effect on other molecules in the body – proteins, and fats, causing the aging process.

At present, it is believed that high serum levels of glycation end products – AGEs are responsible for both the induction and

the progression of microvascular complications associated with diabetes, cataracts, arterial hypertension, decreased myocardial contractility, and kidney disease. (6) 

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