We all want to look and feel younger, and it seems we are willing to pay just about anything to do it. Everywhere you turn, someone is selling the promise of younger skin, shinier hair, fewer wrinkles, and faded age spots. While we know we cannot “get” younger, we at least want to look younger.
But what if you could look younger simply by keeping your blood sugar levels low? Would you do whatever it took to overturn diabetes or even insulin resistance?
Judging a Book By Its Cover
Several lifestyle factors have been associated with prematurely aging you, both inside and out. We all know that smoking, drinking, too much sun, and too many sleepless nights can take a toll on our health as well as our appearance.
We also know that serious illness can age us externally, as well as internally, in a matter of days? But what about less serious health conditions? What about diabetes or even elevated glucose levels that haven’t quite reached diabetic status?
Dutch researchers hypothesized that because elevated glucose levels have been associated with increased internal aging (free radical damage and oxidation), that it may also affect the perceived age of a person.
To test this, researchers used participants of the Leiden Longevity Study. These participants were members of 421 families that consisted of long-living Caucasian siblings, their offspring, and their partners. To be included in the study, at least two siblings had to be living that were at least 89 years old (for men) or 91 years old (for women).
There were 602 subjects in total. They were asked to come to the study center with no makeup or hairstyling products. They each had two photographs taken: one from straight on and one profile. Both hair (or lack thereof) and clothing were hidden in the photograph.
The photos were then assessed by 60 different people unrelated to the study. All were asked to guess the age of the person in the photo. Researchers determined the mean age of these 60 assessments to come to the perceived age of each participant.
Next, researchers had two dermatologists assess each photo and make a determination regarding sun damage. The higher the score, the greater the damage.
Participants were also asked to fill out a questionnaire about lifestyle practices, such as smoking. And researchers calculated the BMI for each participant.
Finally, each participant had blood drawn to determine insulin and blood glucose levels. Based on this data, the participants were divided into four groups:
- Those with diabetes (non-fasting glucose over 11 mmol/L
- Non-diabetics with high blood glucose levels (6.2-10.5 mmol/L)
- Non-diabetics with medium blood glucose levels (5.3-6.1 mmol/L)
- Non-diabetics with low blood glucose levels (3.3-5.2 mmol/L)
Researchers found that, on average, those with diabetes tended to be older and have a higher BMI, but less sun damage. Interestingly, when it came to smoking, 12 percent of both diabetics and those with low blood sugar levels were smokers. Just 10 percent of medium blood sugar participants smoked, while 15 percent of those with high blood sugar were smokers.
When it came to perceived age, researchers found that diabetics were perceived to be nearly two years older than their low-blood sugar counterparts. Similarly, those with high blood sugar were perceived to be seven months older than their low blood sugar counterparts. In fact, researchers discovered that for every 1 mmol/L increase in glucose, perceived age increased by 4.8 months.
Based on these findings, they concluded, “Diabetic subjects had a tendency toward higher perceived age compared to non-diabetic subjects. Moreover, also in non-diabetic subjects, higher glucose levels were associated with a higher perceived age, independent from confounding factors.”
They go on to hypothesize that since visual cues such as sallow skin, wrinkles and sagging skin can be indicators of age, that perhaps elevated glucose levels cause “premature aging of the skin,” likely due to oxidation and free radical damage.
Youth in Your Kitchen
Turns out, when it comes to the Fountain of Youth, the answer may lie right in your kitchen. Working to keep your blood sugar levels in the healthy range not only keeps your body in peak condition, but keeps you looking younger as well.
Follow commonsense advice when it comes to healthy blood sugar. Aim for lean proteins, vegetables, fresh fruit and whole grains. Keep sugar and high-glycemic foods to a minimum.
Then sit back and let the compliments come rolling in!
 Noordam, R et al. High serum glucose levels are associated with a higher perceived age. Age (Dordr). 2011 Nov 20. [Epub ahead of print.]