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Want to Live Longer and Leaner? Lower Your Blood Sugar

Written by: Tom Nikkola – Director of Nutrition & Weight Management 

Though opinions about ideal body size have changed throughout history, there has always been an interest in pursuing longevity. Recent research has allowed us to gain a better understanding of how lifestyle choices and nutrition impact the aging process. Not surprisingly, there are several consistencies between what may reduce the rate of aging and what helps us maintain a healthy body weight or body fat level.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at a variety of ways the body’s aging process can be slowed, and how your ability to manage health and body composition is impacted by blood sugar management, inflammation and stress.

Blood Sugar as a Factor

Our body can handle a limited amount of sugar in our blood at any given time. If the levels of sugar in our blood become too high, glucose, the form of sugar in the blood, becomes toxic to our body’s cells. To keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range, the body secretes the hormone insulin. When the body’s metabolism is forced to deal with high levels glucose on a regular basis, it can lead to a condition called insulin resistance. Some people who have insulin resistance gain extra body fat, giving them a sign it’s time to change their diet and exercise habits. Others don’t gain body fat and believe they’re healthy while their metabolism becomes more and more insulin resistant.

Insulin resistance is a result of consistent, excessive carbohydrate consumption. When blood sugars rise in a healthy individual, the body releases just enough insulin to help rid the blood of extra glucose and allow the liver and muscles to fill with as much glucose as they can hold. The remaining glucose is converted to fat and stored in fat cells. With insulin resistance, the body responds less to the secretion of insulin. As a result, the level of blood glucose can remain higher than it should. The body may secrete more insulin than it should, as well.

Insulin shuts down the body’s ability to burn fat. Even when people control their food intake, the body won’t be able to utilize fat the way it should if insulin levels are high. Body weight might be reduced, but it can be lost in the form of lean body mass or muscle tissue, rather than body fat. And for those who aren’t consciously reducing their calorie intake, body fat can accumulate rapidly due to the high insulin levels.

To compound the issue, fat cells can cause an increase in inflammation, which can make insulin resistance even worse.

Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) and Aging

High levels of blood sugar can also result in the formation of advanced glycation end products. As the acronym suggests, AGEs increase the rate of aging. They are formed when the extra sugar in the body combines with proteins. High levels of AGEs appear to contribute to “atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, end stage renal disease, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcopenia (degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass), cataracts and other degenerative ophthalmic diseases, Parkinson’s disease, vascular dementia (deprivation of blood supply to the brain) and several other chronic diseases.”[i] Besides disease, excess glucose may increase the rate of aging of cells, themselves.[ii]

Get Control of Your Glucose

  • Reducing your carbohydrate consumption is an easy first step.
  • If you believe you’re at risk for insulin resistance, have your blood sugar and serum insulin levels checked at your next physical examination.
  • Pay special attention to your intake of nutrients important for managing blood sugar — such as chromium, magnesium, zinc and vanadium.
  • Exercise. In particular, you should participate in regular resistance training and higher-intensity cardiovascular workouts, which can improve the body’s ability to store carbohydrate as glycogen.
  • Support a healthy metabolism with nine to 12 servings of vegetables (mostly) and fruit every day.

Post comments and questions below.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

[i] Luevano-Contreras C, Chapman-Novakofski K. Dietary Advanced Glycation End Products and Aging. Nutrients. 2010;2:1247-1265

[ii] University of Montreal. Not So Sweet: Over-consumption Of Sugar Linked To Aging. ScienceDaily 9 Mar. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2011

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