Did you know DNA influences how quickly your skin will age?

Glycation, sugar and your skin: Genetic changes in the GLO1 gene explain why eating sugar gives you wrinkles

Desserts – to some they are the epitome of indulgence. Nothing can compare to the euphoria you feel as you sink your teeth into a delicious molten lava cake. We are all aware of the implication of consuming too much sugar – diabetes, obesity and the latest to be added to the list, advanced glycation end products (AGEs).

AGEs are made by a process called glycation, when sugars get randomly attached to proteins and fats, disrupting their regular functions.The detrimental glycation reaction should not be confused with glycosylation, which is a beneficial reaction controlled by enzymes to change proteins into their functional form. AGEs exacerbate conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and true to their name lead to premature aging, especially of the skin.

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We consume a lot of AGEs through our diet, mainly since the bulk of modern day foods are generated using heat, which promotes glycation. Dietary AGEs are relevant to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, the AGEs responsible for wrinkles and fine lines is due the glycation that happens inside our bodies. Collagen and elastin are proteins found in the dermis layer of our skin. These proteins are prime targets of glycation, because they are long-lived and exposed to high sugar levels. Glycation alters the flexibility of collagen, and this stiffening affects many of the organs supported by it. For example, when scientists reconstructed a 3D model of skin containing glycated collagen, their model showed many signs of aging.

The only way to get rid of AGEs once they have formed, is by destroying the “AGEed” protein. However, glycation itself makes proteins resistant to breakdown. It’s this accumulation of AGEs that’s responsible for the changes we see in our skin, from the loss of elasticity to the appearance of fine wrinkles and reduced thickness of the skin. 

So if we didn’t have enough to feel guilty about when we reach for a well-earned dessert, it appears that some of us are genetically at more of a disadvantage when it comes to preventing AGEs. This is due to variation in a gene called GLO1. The glyoxalase I enzyme (encoded by the GLO1 gene) helps stop AGEs from forming, and increasing levels of glyoxalase I can dramatically reduce the formation of AGEs. Unfortunately, as we age, our glyoxalase I enzyme activity decreases and the amount of glycated collagen in our skin increases by 33% between the ages of 20 and 80.

Some of us are even more unlucky and inherit a genetic variant of GLO1, called rs1049346. This variant results in significantly lower production of the glyoxalase I enzyme. People with this variant have skin that appears to age much more quickly because of the extra accumulation of AGEs. Elevated sugar intake can further enhance glycation, so a high-sugar diet is much more detrimental to the skin of a person with rs1049346 than a person with the normal version of GLO1

While aging may be an inevitable fact of life, you will never be able to find a person who wants to look old. So, if you intend to keep your skin from aging prematurely, and you also carry the defective version of GLO1, it’s time to curb your sweet tooth. Exercise may melt off the sugar that makes its way to your waist, legs or back, but no amount of exercise can reverse the damage AGEs do to your skin.

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