Sugar and Aging: What’s the connection?

  • Sugar. When I was young, I was a strange kid who often didn't even want ice cream or other desserts. I took after my father who wasn't a sweet eater. Neither of us wanted sugary foods. Unfortunately, advancing years brought out my inner child. I'm now a hardcore sweet eater, at least some of the time. I cycle with it.


    We know sugar isn't good for our teeth. We know it puts on unhealthy weight. But breast milk is sweet for a reason. The human infant is drawn to sweets, and we don't seem to outgrow that attraction.


    Over-consumption of sweets, however, has become a huge problem in our society of refined addiction. There are hidden sugars in many refined products, and perhaps that has something to do with our national obesity problem, as well as aging and disease. Many scientists have written on their own theories about this, as have many pseudo-scientists who want to push their own version of a diet. Still, real or pseudo-science, too much refined sugar is pretty well accepted as not a good idea.

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    Some hard science reported on in an article titled, "Over-consumption of sugar linked to aging," out of Montreal, Canada, connects over-consumption of sweets to aging.  The study itself was published in the PLoS Genetics, University of Montréal. In the study, scientists clearly state, "What researchers do know is that there is a clear relationship between aging and calorie intake."


    According to the study, these scientists feel that this has to do with the body's ability to sense the presence of sugars in food. An interesting fact mentioned in the study lies in genes and cells. The study authors discovered, "that if they removed the gene for a glucose sensor from yeast cells, they (cells) lived just as long as those living on a glucose-restricted diet. In short, the fate of these cells doesn't depend on what they eat but what they think they're eating."


    These researchers found that, "...cells unable to consume glucose as energy source are still sensitive to the pro-aging effects of glucose. Conversely, obliterating the sensor that measures the levels of glucose significantly increased lifespan."


    What to do? Well, here is something we have some control over when it comes to aging. It seems that reducing our consumption of refined sugar could stave off some negative effects as we accumulate years. The challenge, of course, is how do we, sweet lovers since birth, manage this?


    Much of what I read in articles on healthy eating already tells us to cut back on sweets. Eat fruit to satisfy our sweet tooth. Try to eliminate refined foods. Read labels when you buy refined foods. When we read labels, we are often surprised to find high fructose corn syrup right at the top of the ingredients list - even in foods we don't consider sweets.


    Awareness is key here. Awareness may be even more important than self-discipline. Reading labels and cutting out "sneaky sweets" is a good place to start, even if we can't turn down a cookie after dinner. That's where I'm going to start. If I get rid of the sweets I don't even know I'm eating, maybe I'll put off some of the aging brought on by refined sugar. And that may help my aging brain, as well as the rest of my body. Perhaps if I get that far, I'll be able to start working on some self-discipline. One step at a time.


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Published On: March 24, 2009