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Friday, April 25, 2014

5 Simple, Effective Anti-AGEing Strategies

“It’s only 30 minutes, and then we’ll hit the tapas-and-tequila happy hour in the lobby,” my coworker said.
We were at a nutrition conference where, after sitting through eight hours’ worth of lectures, my brain was fried. I just wanted to go to my room and chill out before the party.
But no, my coworker insisted on this 4:30 p.m. seminar, cleverly titled “How AGE-ing can Destroy Your Life.” Well, duh, of course growing older sucks if you don’t take care of yourself, I reasoned. I didn’t need to hear a lecture about it.
I soon understood the lecturer’s clever wording: He was talking about an entirely different sort of aging that can wreak havoc on every system in your body.

Protein and Maple Syrup: Not a Good Combo
I wearily sat down for this presentation (“It had better be good!” I snapped at my coworker as I fumbled open a dark chocolate bar) and watched as this doctor demonstrated how, in a maze-like structure, oyster-looking proteins slithered around in your body.
“This is what proteins do,” he explained. “They form antibodies, enzymes, and other important things.” I really didn’t care, and those oysters were making me hungry.
Then he really got my attention.
The doctor grabbed a measuring cup full of maple syrup and pored it on to the proteins. Unsurprisingly, stickiness hindered those proteins. They slowed down and eventually became stuck. It was like driving down the freeway 80 miles an hour and suddenly getting stuck in Los Angeles rush-hour traffic. Everything came to a halt.
“That’s what happens when you eat too much sugar,” he explains. “Sugar literally ‘gums’ up those proteins, making them inefficient to do their jobs. It’s called glycation, and advanced glycation end products – with the appropriate acronym AGEs – are the end result.”
Fascinating, I thought, promising myself I would research this more later. I had mentally checked out; my mind was on gluten-free beef tacos for dinner.
What are Glycation and AGEs?
 I followed up on my self-promise and researched AGEs a few days after the conference. Thankfully, my friend Dr. Jonny Bowden talks about glycation and AGEs in his books. Jonny has this rare ability to make complex science really simple without dumbing it down.
 Glycation occurs when sugar sticks to places it doesn’t belong – namely, proteins – making these places sticky and inefficient. Jonny calls glycation “one of the Four Horsemen of Aging” that contributes to nearly every disease on the planet.
When these proteins become glycated – in other words, when the proteins become “stickied up” – molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) result. As these hard-working proteins become more and more coated with this sticky syrup, they can’t get through the smaller blood vessels and other areas that need blood flow.
Understandably, this slow-down effect wreaks havoc on your entire body. AGEs inhibit blood flow. They damage your arteries, increasing your risk for stroke, heart disease, and other complications. They destroy your immune system. And appropriate for the acronym, they age you.
The Ugly Repercussions of AGE-ing
I’m willing to bet you have someone in your family with diabetes. Over time, if they don't take care of themselves, potentially fatal complications occur like neuropathy, kidney problems, and a weakened immune system. Tragically, they may need to have a limb amputated. Not a pretty situation.
Diabetes provides a classic example of glycation. This makes sense considering diabetes involves too much sugar in your blood (increasing risk for sticky proteins) and impaired circulation. Among their problems, researchers found AGEs contribute to diabetic nephropathy and retinopathy.
It isn’t just diabetes. AGEs “accumulate to high levels in tissues in age-related chronic diseases,” one study found. Among those diseases, one study connected AGEs with Alzheimer’s development
No organ becomes spared for the devastating effects of AGEs: Your vascular system but also your brain, your nervous system, and your bones all take a hit. AGEs are equal-opportunity offenders that don’t discriminate in any organ.
Studies show oxidative stress can increase AGEs. Numerous things trigger free radicals that create oxidative stress, some within your control and others not so much. (More on that in a minute.) A chicken-or-egg scenario results. Glycation creates oxidative damage, churning out more free radicals that eventually amp up more AGEs.
AGEs can also increase chronic inflammation, an athlete’s worst nightmare. Achy joints, soreness, and fatigue are among inflammation’s many game-wreaking symptoms.
So you get it: AGEs are those big bad wolves that create acute and chronic problems, and you want to do everything possible to prevent them from forming. What can you do to minimize AGEs? Glad you asked.
Strategy #1: Minimize the Fried Stuff
Ah bacon, let me count the ways I love you. Except… Well, I knew sugar contributed to glycation, but fat!? No, not my beloved grass-fed beef and nitrate-free bacon.
Actually, it depends.
“When you cook foods at really high temperatures like those needs for frying, it results in what’s called a ‘browning’ effect, which is simply another term for glycation,” Bowden says. “You’re basically eating glycated proteins.”
He goes on to say high-heat cooked foods “are virtual glycation factories [where you ingest] AGEs, which are basically the end result of glycation [emphasis his].”
So it isn’t the meat itself but how you cook it. If you’re eating restaurant-cooked bacon, you’re probably increasing your AGEs load.
One study looked at how various cooked foods can create AGEs. “The amount of AGEs present in all food categories was related to cooking temperature, length of cooking time, and presence of moisture,” researchers concluded. Broiling and frying yielded the highest levels of AGEs. Good to know.
We live in the real world, and occasionally you’re going to eat restaurant bacon or fried eggs or whatever. Do it infrequently and more importantly, eat your veggies to reduce that glycation load. (More in a minute.)
 Strategy #2: Nix This Type of Sugar
You probably know my most effective strategy to reduce your risk for AGEs: Pull the sugar. When you don’t surge your bloodstream with sticky sugar, you don’t glycate those crucial proteins. Duh.
Well… Yes and no.
As a heavy lifter or athlete, your muscle cells have become really good at soaking up sugar as glucose, which gets stored as glycogen for back-up fuel. You can get away with eating the occasional sweet without creating major metabolic damage.
What your muscle cells don’t soak up is fructose, an especially harmful sugar that goes straight to your liver and eventually converts to triglycerides (fat). Bowden says fructose is seven times more likely to form AGEs than glucose.
You would think, based on strategy #1, meat eaters would have higher levels of AGEs.  I mean, even the purest carnivore who swears by grass-fed everything will occasionally eat restaurant bacon or some sort of fried meat, increasing AGEs formation.
Think again. One study found vegetarians had higher levels of AGEs than meat eaters. How could that be?
Well, there are two types of AGEs: plasma AGEs (formed inside your body) and endogenous AGEs (formed outside your body). Turns out vegetarians had higher levels of endogenous AGEs.
What’s more, researchers found on average vegetarians ate more high-fructose vegetables and fruits than meat eaters; vegans ate over twice the amount of high-fructose fruit.
Beginning to see a pattern here? The occasional apple or other fructose-rich food isn’t going to create problems, but when you nosh on high-fructose foods all day in lieu of high-quality protein and healthy fats, you increase your AGEs risk.
The take-home is to keep all sugars – even the healthy ones in fruit – in check. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, focus on plant foods rich in protein and fat like avocado, nuts, nut butters, and seeds.
Strategy #3: Bump up Antioxidant-Rich Plant Foods
I’m a meat girl. Give me a good grass-fed steak and I’m an easy date.
That said, I’m also about balancing meat with antioxidant-rich plant foods. Namely, I load my plate with tons of leafy and cruciferous veggies. I throw berries and avocado into my protein shake. Quinoa and sweet potatoes are my starchy-carb best friends.
“Animal-derived foods that are high in fat and protein are generally AGE-rich and prone to new AGE formation during cooking,” one study concluded. “In contrast, carbohydrate-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk contain relatively few AGEs, even after cooking.”
Simple: Cook your (high-quality) meat correctly and amp up your plant foods.
Besides, there are numerous other benefits to eating vegetables and other plant foods. Many of them are anti-inflammatory, boost immunity, and add variety to your meals. When you combine protein and healthy fats in meat with fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants in plant-based foods, you get a win-win meal.
Strategy #4: Exercise Smarter
I couldn’t find any studies that show exercise directly impact AGEs, but indirectly it can provide several benefits including: 
·       Normalizing inflammation levels in your body – remember, inflammation and AGEs go hand in hand
·       Helping your body better metabolize sugar so it doesn’t “gum up” those important proteins
·       Reducing your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other problems
Studies show exercise can increase oxidative stress, wreaking havoc on your body. A couple of ideas to reduce that damage:
·       Don’t over-train, which can increase oxidative stress and keep your stress hormone cortisol ramped up when it should be tapering down.
·       Make sure you’re eating a wide variety of colorful antioxidant-rich foods to reduce exercise-related oxidative stress.
·       Consider an antioxidant supplement. Nutrients like carnosine, resveratrol, and curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) can help normalize inflammation and reduce free radical damage.
 Strategy #5: Prioritize Recovery
In the fitness world, we love to talk about how heavy we lift and how hard we work. Recovery and repair just sound like we’re slacking, yet as I’ve said before, they contribute more to your overall fitness goals than actually working out.
Over-training can increase AGEs. So can chronic stress and not getting enough sleep. One study found non-diabetic people with obstructive sleep apnea had increased levels of AGEs
Even if you don’t suffer sleeping disorders, not getting eight hours of high-quality, uninterrupted shut-eye every night can skyrocket aging, increasing inflammation and sending you down the path to disease.
Your Turn
Turmeric and blueberries are among my favorite antioxidant-rich foods. What are yours? Share your comments below or on my Facebook fan page.

Note: A big thanks to Dr. Jonny Bowden and his excellent books in elucidating glycation and AGEs, including The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer. If you haven’t read this and his many other amazing books, get yourself to a bookstore or Amazon pronto!
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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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