What is glycation? (with pictures)

Green tea indicated an ability to prevent glycation.

Glycation is a reaction that occurs when simple sugar molecules, such as fructose or glucose, bind to lipid proteins or fats without the moderation of an enzyme. This results in the formation of harmful molecules known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). This process, also known as non-enzymatic glycosylation, is normally governed by enzymatic activity, necessary to regulate the metabolic functioning of molecules. The lack of this catalyst prevents the normal glycosylation of sugars to produce needed energy, however, and since it disrupts normal metabolic pathways and advances the circulation of AGEs, it may promote certain health risks.

AGEs have been linked to many age-related diseases.

Exogenous glycations, a form that occurs outside the body, are responsible for allowing foods to brown during cooking. This type is nicknamed the Maillard reaction, after the early 20th-century French chemist who first observed how sugars react with fats or proteins when exposed to high temperatures. While crispy French fries and grilled meats can be tasty, the reaction that produces them also creates 2-propenamide, a suspected food-borne carcinogen. Additionally, exogenous AGEs are sometimes added to certain foods to enhance color and flavor, including baked goods, dark sodas, and coffee.

Elevated levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) can lead to diabetes-related complications.

Endogenous glycation, which occurs in the body, is associated with increased oxidative damage. AGEs and their byproducts are linked to many age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s. This process is particularly important for diabetics, who are already suffering from the effects of poor glucose control. In fact, elevated levels of AGEs contribute to a number of diabetes-related complications, including neuropathy, retinal disease, and kidney failure.

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Elevated levels of AGEs also deplete nitric oxide levels, which promotes vascular damage and an increased risk of heart disease. As sugar molecules bind to high-density lipoprotein molecules – the “good” cholesterol – the latter is prevented from binding to receptors in the liver. The end result is that the liver is tricked into thinking there is a shortage of cholesterol and continues to manufacture more to deposit in the bloodstream.

AGEs appear to age the human body faster than nature intended. In addition to limiting your consumption of baked goods, fried foods, and other foods high in AGE, studies have shown that certain nutrients can serve as inhibitors of this process. For example, calcium pyruvate and carnosine not only seem to help prevent the reaction, but also stimulate proteolysis, or the breakdown of glycated proteins. Certain plant extracts have also been studied for their potential to prevent glycation, at least in vitro. Among those that have shown promising results are cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, cumin and green tea.

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