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We’ve known about AGEs in foods for nearly a century, but their potential for harm has only recently been brought to light. What took us so long? Life Extension’s Michael A. Smith, M.D., and A.G.E. researcher Helen Vlassara, M.D., talk about AGEs, their discovery, and what it means.
AGEs and aging
“AGEs are extremely common compounds that form inside our bodies as well as that of animals and in food,” explained Helen Vlassara, M.D. “Whenever proteins and fats come together with sugars, the chemical process by which they form is called glycation. We’ve given them this acronym of AGEs, which stands for advanced glycation end products, for both scientific as well as practical reasons, mainly because they were found to be elevated in persons of advanced age. Basically, AGEs are modified proteins or fats that are no longer normal, and when they are in excess in the body, they can be harmful. We have shown that AGEs underlie diabetes and its complications (vascular and kidney disease), dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, bone disease, and skin aging
Dr. Vlassara is the former Director of the Diabetes and Aging Division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. She has devoted over thirty years to studying the effects of advanced glycation end products and is coauthor of A.G.E.less Diet and The A.G.E. Food Guide: A Quick Reference to Food and the AGEs They Contain. Her work has been recognized by the American Diabetes Association and the National Institute on Aging.
What took us so long?
When proteins attach to sugars in foods, the result is a familiar browning effect that enhances food color, taste, and aroma. The set of chemical reactions involved in browning was first identified by the French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard in 1912 and is still referred to as the Maillard reaction.78 “I’m very proud to have been part of this discovery as a young scientist,” Dr. Vlassara enthused. “This test alone has virtually changed the outlook, the lives of countless people with diabetes around the globe.”
Nothing was known concerning their potential for harm until 1968, when researchers observed an increase in the glycation of hemoglobin (a red blood cell protein that transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body’s tissues) in diabetics who, as we all know, have elevated blood sugar. This led to the development of the hemoglobin A1c test. This test measures the percentage of glycated hemoglobin, which is a reflection of long-term glucose control.
“It took another 10-15 years of basic science to prove that the AGEs that are in our food
are identical to those found in the body,” Dr. Vlassara stated. “This lag in timing has to do with the traditional way science works.”
Despite the slow pace of scientific investigation, Dr. Vlassara expressed confidence that mainstream medicine will begin taking AGEs seriously.
What makes AGEs so detrimental?
“AGEs have uncanny abilities to harm the body,” Dr. Vlassara remarked. “First and foremost, they are oxidants. That is, by generating unstable molecules that we call free radicals, they can consume our own antioxidants and suppress our native defenses. In fact, they’re a key cause for the chronic inflammation
that we all hear about.”9,10
Inflammation underlies chronic diseases that are epidemic in Western societies: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, arthritis, and cancer, in addition to accelerated aging.11 While the cause of chronic inflammation is multifactorial and complex, what is happening, according to Dr. Vlassara, is a gradual breakdown in the body’s antioxidant defense systems that normally maintain the healthy function of our hormones (especially insulin) while keeping a tight leash on inflammation. Food AGEs are a contributor to this imbalance.12
The good news is that, by adopting the AGEless diet which helps lower the entry of toxic AGEs into the body, we can help protect ourselves without having to cut out flavorful foods.13
Ageless Diet Plan
It’s not only what we eat, but how it’s cooked
The amount of heat and water used in cooking is important. AGEs form during a loss of water by heat.14The same process happens in the body
as well, but more slowly.
“Imagine food on the stove in the kitchen,” Dr. Vlassara suggested. “By turning up the heat dial, the water loss happens extremely rapidly and that accelerates and amplifies the amount of AGEs that are formed. By frequently consuming those foods that are prepared with dry heat, we can easily consume enough AGEs to turn us from healthy to unhealthy individuals, just as smoking does.”
In summary, Dr. Vlassara recommends that people:
- Learn what foods contain lower amounts of AGEs.
- Prepare foods using lower heat and more water.
- Add AGE retardants to food, such as lemon or tomato juice, or vinegar.
“The AGEless story is an entirely fascinating story,” Dr. Vlassara observed. “We are confident that, once the word gets out, it will find the support in the people that need it most.”
Like what Dr. Vlassara has to say? Listen to the Live Foreverish podcast with Life Extension’s Dr. Michael Smith and his guest Helen Vlassara, M.D., as they discuss the AGEs, by visiting LiveFOREVERish.com
If you like what you hear, please take a moment to give Live Foreverish a 5-star rating on iTunes
To find out more about Dr. Vlassara’s books, visit www.squareonepublishers.com
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- Bucala R et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1993 Jul 15;90(14):6434-8.
- Makita Z et al. Nephrol Dial Transplant. 1996;11 Suppl 5:31-3.
- Bucala R et al. Am J Kidney Dis. 1995 Dec;26(6):875-88.56.
- Vitek MP et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 May 24;91(11):4766-70.
- Nakamura Y et al. Am J Pathol. 1993 Dec;143(6):1649-56.
- Fournet M et al. Aging Dis. 2018 Oct;9(5):880-900.
- Gebel E. Diabetes Care. 2012 Dec;35(12):2429-31.
- Yan LJ. J Diabetes Res. 2014;2014:137919.
- Vlassara H et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Nov 26;99(24):15596-601.
- Fougere B et al. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017 Sep 1;72(9):1218-25.
- Cai W et al. Proc Nat Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Sep 25;109(39):15888-93.
- Vlassara H et al. Diabetologia. 2016 Oct;59(10):2181-92.
- Prasad K, Tiwari S. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(6):937-43.
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