What is glycation?

Deborah Davis
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Glycation refers to the binding of sugars to proteins.  Glycated proteins are the products of nonenzymatic reaction between the free aldehyde group of glucose or other sugars and the free, unprotonated form of amino group of proteins.  The percentage of glycated proteins in blood plasma depends on the concentration of glucose, duration of glucose exposure to the proteins and the half-life of proteins.

Glycation is a natural process in which the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins, forming harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products (ironically, AGEs for short). Researchers are currently trying to figure out just how glycation factors into the age equation; it’s not necessarily accurate to say “sugar causes wrinkles,” because there are some complex biological pathways happening that involve more than sugar alone. Too much glycation may affect what type of collagen you can build, which is a huge factor in determining how resistant your skin will be to wrinkling. The damaging effects sugar can have on your looks are clearly evident in diabetics who have a hard time controlling their blood-sugar levels. Diabetics often show the signs of premature aging because they can go for years with undetected high blood sugar, causing them to physically age quicker.

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Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD

A hot topic right now in the skin care world is "glycation" essentially, the idea that glucose (from carbohydrates and sugars) that you digest may attach to proteins such as collagen in your body and form new molecules called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. These AGEs allegedly degrade collagen and elastin, causing them to harden and lose elasticity in the same way rust weakens and degrades metal. It's important to know that so far the only testing done on glycation and the skin has been in vitro (in a Petri dish in a laboratory), so there's a long way to go before it's proven that eating carbohydrates and sugars can destroy the collagen in the dermis. The current hype about glycation stems from solid scientific research that's been done about plaque buildup in the arteries and blood vessels of diabetics (who are unable to process sugars normally) and how this can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Glycation, which occurs when insulin doesn't metabolize sugars properly, destroys the collagen in blood vessels (collagen is a structural protein found all over the body, not just in the skin) and ultimately causes it to become brittle and form plaque. Can sugars do equally damaging things to collagen in the skin, even in people who don't suffer from diabetes? It's a very interesting theoretical question and a strong argument could be made, but there are as yet no human controlled studies to show the relevance of glycation to the skin.

Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

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Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.