Going Sugar Free! (Part 2)

Originally Posted 10/19/2017


Some of you know that I am hugely into skin care. I make my own skin care products, and I also make them for clients. One thing that I always ask my clients is their eating habits. Yes! What you eat shows up on your skin! 

Have you heard of the SUGAR-SAG?    

Sagging skin from too much sugar. Pay attention and read below if you want to be wrinkle-free!

Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs-a very appropriate acronym!)

Glycation refers to the process where proteins, lipids, or nucleic acids bond to sugar molecules, usually glucose of fructose1. Glycation happens at random sites on a protein, lipid, or nucleic acid molecule. The glycated molecule is the end-product. The altered molecule’s normal function becomes disrupted and the molecule is no longer able to function properly.

There are many facets to AGEs. AGEs may accumulate in various tissues as a marker of function or chronological aging. Increased accumulation of AGEs was first directly correlated to diabetes1. For those familiar with diabetes, Hemoglobin A1C is the measurement of glycated hemoglobin. This measurement provides the average blood sugar level over the past 2-3 months (as the average life-span of a red blood cell is about 110 days). If a person makes changes in diet and exercise level, HbA1C will change accordingly since new blood cells will not be impacted by glycation.

In our skin, AGEs negatively impact the skin’s function. Glycation causes crosslinking of collagen (you know, the stuff that’s heavily advertised by brand name cosmetics) and elastin2 that supports the dermis. This results in stiffening of collagen and elastin molecules, preventing them from interacting with surrounding cells. The glycated collagen becomes resistant to degradation by matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). The change slows down the collagen turnover and slows down the replacement of functional proteins. The dermis becomes unsupported, and sags! (Yikes!)  Of note here is that collagen has a half-life of approximately 15 years…so whatever is glycated, you are kind of stuck with it for a long time.

AGEs can also come from external sources. Not only can your body create AGEs from excess sugar, AGEs are also present in the food you eat. This is mainly based on preparation method. Grilling, frying, and roasting tend to produce higher levels of AGEs in food. In contrast, water-based cooking methods such as boiling of steaming, produce a much lower amount of AGEs.

A study has found that a strict blood sugar control over 4 months will not only reduce HbA1c, it can also reduce your glycated collagen formation by 25%3,4. How’s that for potential wrinkle reduction?

Don’t ask me for a miracle serum when you eat an unhealthy diet. I cannot change your body’s biochemistry. Start eating healthy and take supplements if you are a really picky eater. I promise you this: You can do more for your skin with a healthier lifestyle than any promise of a youth fountain in a jar.

By the way, collagen protein molecules are too large to cross the epidermis. So, if you put collagen on your skin, you are wasting your money. Collagen injection may work better. But if you do not take care of your nutrient intake, all that fresh collagen will just glycate and become dysfunctional. It’s really up to you!


  1. Harrison P. Nguyen, BA and Rajani Katta, MD. Sugar Sag: Glycation and the Role of Diet in Aging Skin, Skin Therapy Letter, Vol. 20, 2015 Articles
  2. William Danby MD, Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation, Clinics in Dermatology, Volume 28, Issue 4, July–August 2010, Pages 409-411
  3. Danby FW. Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation. Clin Dermatol. 2010 Jul-Aug;28(4):409-11.
  4. Draelos ZD. Aging skin: the role of diet: facts and controversies. Clin Dermatol. 2013 Nov-Dec;31(6):701-6.

Going Sugar Free for September and Beyond! (Part 1)

Originally posted Sept 2017

To clarify, I am not talking about the sugar that comes naturally in fruits and vegetables and whole grain carbohydrates. I am talking about sugar that is added to cooked foods, processed foods, chocolate bars, ice cream, sodas, and candies.

I started cutting back on sugar two years ago after I had a medical scare and started studying functional medicine. Cutting back meant not eating chocolate bars, ice cream, or candies…the obvious ones. I still had my sweet gluten-free baked goods, and some processed foods. As I became more aware and started reading all the food labels, I realized I am still consuming a lot of added sugar.

Since the Canadian Cancer Society started a Sugar-Free September fundraising campaign, I am going to put in my full effort to cut out added sugar!

While sugar brings certain pleasure in life, the Canadian Cancer Society states: “Most Canadians consume diets high in added sugar, which can lead to excess weight gain. Research shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of cancer.”  And it’s not just cancer. Sugar is also associated with many other health issues.

What is sugar and what does it do?

Sugar is a carbohydrate made up of two molecules: glucose and fructose. Sugar goes by at least 60 different names: sucrose, coconut sugar, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maple syrup, just to name a few.

Sugar is not evil. Our bodies need glucose as energy to function properly, and we’ve been consuming fructose from fruits and vegetables for a long time without ill effects.

Fructose needs to be converted by the liver to glucose or fat. The liver will release the glucose and fat into the blood if needed, or store them as glycogen or fat deposits.

Glucose is absorbed into the body through the gut, or from the body converting carbohydrates ingested. Once in the blood stream, the pancreas detects rising glucose level in the blood and releases insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates how the body uses and stores glucose and fat. Some cells in the body can take glucose from the blood without insulin, but most cells require insulin to be present.

If the body has sufficient energy, insulin signals the muscles and liver to take up glucose and store it as glycogen. Insulin will also turn off fat burning and promote glucose burning as the body’s primary fuel source. Any excess glucose ends up being stored as stored as lipid in fat tissues.

Clearly our body is very smart, and it will do what is required to try and maintain proper balance. But at some point, there may be too much sugar for the body to handle.

Why are we concerned about high sugar intake?

Weight gain and Obesity

As mentioned by the Canadian Cancer Society, it’s not sugar itself that is linked to cancer (although there is one research demonstrating a direct link between fructose and tumour growth); it’s the resulting weight gain and obesity that is linked to cancer.

First, sugar can create an insatiable appetite. Insulin also signals the release of a hormone called leptin, which tells our brains we are full and can stop eating. Imbalanced insulin levels, along with high consumption of sugars, have been linked to leptin resistance. This means the brain no longer responds to the message of stop eating, hence promoting weight gain.1

Fructose has also been singled out as the one with greater impact on satiety. Fructose does not stimulate insulin, which in turn fails to suppress ghrelin, the hunger hormone. This means your body continuously signals you to eat more.  At the same time, continuous secretion of ghrelin further suppresses leptin.

Second, there’s been studies showing that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. One study even showed it to be more addictive. Sugar triggers the brain’s reward centre the same way these drugs do – by causing the brain to release a massive amount of dopamine in an area of the brain called the Nucleus Accumbens1,2. This is why it feels good to eat sugar.

When we eat sugar often and in large amounts, the dopamine receptors start to down-regulate with each dose. This means there are fewer receptors for the dopamine to cause the same response. The next time you eat sugar, the effect is blunted. We will need more sugar to get the same level of reward.

One research paper concluded: “Our findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and -addicted individuals”3. No wonder we hear people mention that “I have a craving for [insert your favourite sweet treat]” so often!

How much is too much?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends no more than 10% of an adult’s calories, and ideally less than 5%, should come from added sugar or from natural sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juice.4 For a 2,000-calorie diet, 5% would be 25 grams, roughly 6 teaspoonfuls.

On average, in 2004, Canadians consumed 110.0 grams of sugar a day, the equivalent of 26 teaspoons!

Here are a few commonly consumed products and their sugar contents to show how easy it is to surpass the recommendations for added sugar consumption:

Starbucks tall Vanilla Frappuccino with 2% milk, no whip – 46 grams6

Wendy’s small Chocolate Frosty – 46 grams7

Tim Horton’s Whole Grain Blueberry Muffin – 27 grams8

So, are we eating too much sugar? I’d say so.