By Dr Anna Porter GP and Skin Specialist
We all know that eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain, cause diabetes and heart disease and is absolutely terrible for our teeth- but can it really also have a negative effect on our skin?
In a word, yes. Whilst eating a moderate amount of sugar in your diet is unlikely to have directly harmful effects, large quantities over a long period of time may well impact your skin (as well as your general health).
After eating a lot of sugar (or foods with a high glycaemic index – those that the body quickly converts into sugar) our livers secrete high levels of insulin, a hormone designed to store sugar.
Paradoxically, over time, the more frequently our bodies secrete high levels of insulin, the less sensitive to it we become, and the more sugar and insulin there is swimming around.
When sugar can’t be stored effectively, substances called free fatty acids are also released into the blood stream, these can also contribute to inflammation throughout the body.
In high concentrations, all these substances result in free radical formation and pro-inflammatory mediators such as cytokines, potentially causing damage to blood vessels throughout the body, and the skin.
In the skin, inflammation caused by high sugar levels and spikes in insulin can result in flare-ups of acne. High sugar levels can also worsen inflammatory conditions such as eczema, rosacea and psoriasis.
There’s also bad news for skin ageing – even if you don’t suffer from any inflammatory skin condition, there is evidence that eating too much sugar can accelerate skin ageing.
One of the ways the skin ages is via a process called glycation. You may have heard about the skin ‘scaffolding’, the famous collagen and elastin – the holy grail of youthful skin. These molecules help keep the skin firm and supple. Glycation is a natural process by which sugar binds to these molecules, causing a build-up of AGE molecules (Advanced Glycation End-products) resulting in this scaffolding becoming brittle and stiff and eventually breaking down - leaving the skin thin, wrinkled, saggy and lacklustre.
Too much sugar accelerates this process- exactly the opposite of what you want to achieve if, like me, you’re the wrong side of 40! Thankfully, some advanced anti-aging products help to protect against this, but the best thing you can do is reduce your sugar intake, particularly as you age.
How much sugar is too much ?
It’s difficult to say exactly, but the UK Government currently recommends that ‘free’ sugars – that is, added sugars and those from fruit, not those contained within starchy foods -should not make up more than 5 % of the energy adults consume each day. This equates to around 30mg (or 7 sugar cubes) max per day. To put it in context, just one can of full-sugar cola contains around 9 sugar cubes – so well over your daily recommended maximum.
So, which foods should I be avoiding?
It won’t be news to you that foods high in artificial sugars such as sweets, cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks are bad for your health. Fatty foods will also make the problem worse so try to avoid crisps and chips as well as those highly processed starchy foods such as white bread.
Even naturally- occurring starches such as white rice and white potatoes readily liberate sugar, so maybe try and swap these for alternatives with a lower glycaemic index, such as brown or black rice, and sweet potatoes.
Fruit is sugary – do I need to cut down on my intake?
No, not if you are otherwise fit and well. Whilst fruits can be high in sugars, they are also high in fibre and water which stop the sugar being released so quickly, preventing those insulin spikes. It has been found that naturally-occurring fructose in fruit does not result in the same potentially harmful effects as added sugars like glucose – plus, you don’t want to miss out on all the skin-boosting vitamins and antioxidants they contain. Try to make fruit the only ‘free’ sugar in your diet.
So, like all the other organs in your body, your skin is happiest fuelled by a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, and low in sugar and fatty foods.
Anti-Glycation Products in the ZENii range:
Antioxidant Power Serum – an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory skin serum. Shop HERE.
ProLuminous supplement – an advanced anti-glycation & antioxidant supplement. Shop HERE.
Skin Fusion – an advanced collagen & elastin boosting anti-glycation supplement. Shop HERE.
By Dr Anna Porter GP and Skin Specialist