Ironically enough, Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) are molecules heavily implicated in the aging process.
AGEs are formed when a sugar becomes chemically attached to either a protein or a fat, either inside the body or outside of it. In cooking, it’s called the Maillard reaction, and it only occurs when cooking at higher temperatures over dry heat. If you’ve ever appreciated the lovely golden color of toasted butter on bread, then you know what AGEs look like.
Unfortunately, delicious though they are, AGEs are linked to many, if not most, chronic diseases, as well as to the aging process itself. We can’t completely avoid them, as they do form naturally inside our bodies over time—though we do have built-in mechanisms to deal with them in smaller amounts.
But the bulk of AGEs these days come from dietary sources.
AGEs, Inflammation, and Oxidative Stress
Advanced glycation end products are decidedly associated with oxidative damage and inflammation, independent of the patient’s age or other factors. Specifically, AGEs increase release of inflammatory cytokines—including TGFb1, which is otherwise considered a marker of biotoxin illness.
AGEs and Cardiovascular Disease
Since blood vessels are made largely of collagen (a protein), glycation can also directly damage the endothelium, leading to plaques, thickening of the blood vessel lining, and decreased elasticity. This is probably why they can also decrease nitric oxide activity, necessary for adequate blood vessel dilation.
Because of the associated damage, we would expect AGEs to increase cardiovascular disease mortality—and indeed, they do.
AGEs, Diabetes, and Metabolic Syndrome
One of the very common tests for tracking disease progression in diabetes, or prediabetes, is hemoglobin A1c: a measure of glycation on hemoglobin. Increased circulating glucose in the bloodstream means more glucose available for the AGE formation process with any protein that sugar might happen to encounter. Thus, it stands to reason that high HbA1c means high AGEs, too.
Sure enough, there is a clear correlation between elevated AGEs and metabolic syndrome.
How Can You Avoid AGEs?
The best way to avoid AGEs (aside from keeping your blood sugar under control) is to be careful not as much of what you eat, but of how you prepare it.
Cooking with dry heat (stovetop, grilling, baking, etc) increases AGE formation by 10-100 fold, particularly in animal foods high in fat and protein. So if you’re going to cook animal products over dry heat, use lower temperatures for a shorter duration. Acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar also reduced AGE formation.
Better yet, use water-based cooking methods instead, like boiling, steaming, or stewing.
You can also use antioxidants to minimize AGE formation. (So it might be a good idea to take some extra antioxidants before you barbecue!)
Interestingly enough, exercise also seems to decrease AGE formation as well.