What You Need to Know About Advanced Glycation End Products

Published on: 09/26/2023

In this article we will explore what AGEs are, how they impact your health, and how to reduce your exposure to them.

What Are AGEs? 

You may have heard of AGEs before, but what exactly are they? 

AGEs, or advanced glycation end products, are a type of compound that forms when proteins or fats combine with sugars, a process called glycation. 

AGES are formed in several different ways: 

  1. They are naturally created in the body as we break down nutrients. 
  2. They are found naturally in foods we eat every day. 
  3. They are formed when heat is applied during cooking, particularly in animal foods high in fat and protein. 
  4. They are formed during manufacturing of more highly processed foods.

AGEs are harmful to our health, and fortunately our body has mechanisms to eliminate them. Yet, when you consume too many AGEs, your body can’t keep up with eliminating them, and they accumulate. 

How Accumulation of AGEs Impacts Your Health 

Our bodies are only capable of eliminating a fraction of the AGEs we are exposed to. Over time, these chemicals accumulate in our tissues and organs, causing increased oxidative stress and inflammation. This accumulation damages cells and tissues, resulting in high AGE levels in the body, which have many detrimental implications: 

  • Skin: AGE accumulation in skin results in wrinkles, elasticity loss, stiffness, accelerates aging, and raises skin cancer risk.
  • Heart: Elevated AGE levels correlate with higher cardiovascular disease risk; they can obstruct blood vessels and increase heart attack risk.
  • Eyes: Increased AGE levels affect eye proteins in cornea, retina, lens, and optic nerves, diminishing eyesight quality.
  • Brain: High AGE levels in brains of Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s patients might worsen neuronal degeneration.
  • Kidneys: AGEs promote kidney disease and failure due to heightened inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • Gut: High AGE levels cause gut inflammation, linking to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and possible cancer risk.
  • Endocrine Effect: AGEs are shown to elevate oxidative stress and inflammation in the thyroid, raising the risk of thyroiditis and cancer.
  • Fertility: recent studies have suggested that AGEs could impact, via inducing inflammation and oxidative stress, the reproductive health and fertility in both males and females

How AGEs Harm Fertility 

AGEs exert harmful effects on fertility in both males and females. These effects are largely attributed to the oxidative stress and inflammation induced by AGEs, which disrupt critical aspects of reproductive health.

AGEs and Female Fertility

AGEs have been shown to have detrimental effects on female fertility, primarily due to the oxidative stress and inflammation they induce, which negatively impacts follicular growth in the ovaries. Consequently, this can hinder the development of follicles, leading to ovarian dysfunction and interfering with the fertilization process.  Additionally, AGEs have been linked to elevated androgen levels in women, contributing to the development of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

AGEs and Male Fertility

Male fertility is also adversely affected by AGEs. AGEs can impair sperm quality and motility, diminishing the chances of successful fertilization. Additionally, AGEs interfere with spermatogenesis, the process responsible for the development and creation of sperm. This disruption can lead to reduced sperm production and overall infertility in males.

Interested in learning more on the impact of nutrition on fertility? I’m a certified fertility dietitian and you can learn more about me here.

5 Ways to reduce your exposure to AGEs 

Low AGE levels have been linked to accelerated wound healing, decreased inflammation and oxidative stress, improved insulin sensitivity, and a longer lifespan. There are several ways you can reduce your exposure to AGEs.

#1 Choose the right cooking method.

The most effective strategy to curtail AGE intake is opting for minimally processed foods and using cooking methods involving moist heat, lower temperatures, and shorter durations. Cooking techniques like steaming, boiling, poaching, and stewing are ideal, with the slow cooker being among the best options.

Cooking methods that subject food to dry heat contribute to elevated levels of AGEs, therefore choosing these cooking methods should be done less often. These methods encompass barbecuing, grilling, roasting, baking, frying, sautéing, broiling, searing, and toasting. 

The image below, created by the Anti-AGES Foundation, depicts how cooking impacts AGEs.

#2 Use acidic ingredients. 

Acidic ingredients, such as vinegar, tomato juice, lemon juice or lime juice, inhibit the formation of AGEs. Marinades, which often include acidic ingredients, are recommended when you are cooking animal products, like chicken or beef, at high heat. 

#3 Limit your consumption of foods high in AGEs.

  • Sugary items such as candy, cookies, cakes, soda, and pastries are typically high in AGEs.
  • Foods most prone to AGE formation during high-heat cooking are those that are high in fat and protein, such as meat (particularly red meat) and processed meats (bacon, ham, and sausages). 
  • Fried foods and heavily processed items.

Instead, choose low AGE foods such as whole-grains, milk products, beans and legumes, fruits, vegetables, and fish.

#4 Maintain a healthy gut microbiome. 

The gut microbiome, composed of trillions of microorganisms residing in the digestive tract, plays a role in various physiological processes, including digestion, immune function, and metabolism.

One intriguing capability of the gut microbiome is its ability to degrade AGEs during the process of digestion. This microbial activity contributes significantly to the breakdown of AGEs, potentially minimizing their absorption into the bloodstream. By modulating the balance of these gut bacteria, we can influence their capacity to efficiently metabolize AGEs, thereby reducing their potential detrimental impact on our health.

To nurture a thriving gut microbiome and optimize its AGE-degrading potential, take a look at my blog post titled “Nutrition Tips to Restore a Healthy Gut Microbiome”.

#5 Consume a diet rich in antioxidants. 

Incorporating an antioxidant-rich diet is a prudent approach to mitigate the cellular damage associated with AGEs. Antioxidants, recognized for their capacity to neutralize free radicals, play a pivotal role in safeguarding cells against oxidative stress induced by AGEs. This protective mechanism helps maintain cellular integrity and curtails the resulting damage.

Of particular note are cruciferous vegetables. These vegetables contain compounds that interact effectively with AGEs, offering a barrier against their deleterious effects. Cruciferous vegetables include: 

  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Bok Choy
  • Radishes
  • Turnips

Additionally, the Mediterranean diet is worth highlighting as an exemplary dietary pattern rich in antioxidants. This diet emphasizes the consumption of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil, which collectively provide a spectrum of antioxidants. Following the Mediterranean diet can contribute to reducing the impact of AGEs on cellular health and enhance overall well-being. 

A free Mediterranean Recipe Collection can be found on the sidebar of this blog post. 

Conclusion

While complete avoidance of AGES is impossible due to their natural presence in our biology, being AGE-aware empowers you to enact minor adjustments to your daily lifestyle that can significantly curtail your exposure to these compounds. Lowering your intake of AGEs is an easy, proactive approach that will fortify your overall well-being and diminish the risk of chronic ailments. By making modifications to your culinary practices, you can safeguard your long-term health, reducing the likelihood of developing conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

If you’re seeking expert guidance on effectively integrating these dietary and lifestyle changes, consider scheduling an appointment with me. As a registered dietitian, I offer tailored nutrition services, personalized meal planning, and informative group workshops to assist you in the most impactful manner.

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Other Resources

The Anti-AGES Foundation: Their mission is to make the world “AGE aware” by creating dynamic educational resources that provide information on the links between modern nutritional habits, chronic diseases, and AGEs. 

References

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Verena is a Registered Dietitian specializing in women’s hormonal health, fertility, and oncology.  The primary aim of this blog is to offer information that empowers individuals to align their lives with their body’s inherent rhythms. Within these pages, you’ll encounter a blend of evidence-based recommendations grounded in modern medicine, complemented by natural healing approaches and insights from traditional wisdom.

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