AGEs Make You Age. Understanding Glycation and Its Impact on Skin Aging

Mira Zagorova, Hair and Health Specialist
Last edited, 1 May 2024

Ageing remains one of the most fascinating and complex phenomena in biological science.

Over the years, scientists have proposed various theories to explain the mechanisms behind ageing, each shedding light on different aspects of this intricate process.

One such theory is glycation, which has garnered significant interest in recent years for its potential role in ageing skin. However, glycation is just one piece of the puzzle in understanding why we age. Other hypotheses, such as the telomere shortening theory and the free radical theory, offer complementary perspectives on the ageing process, highlighting the multifactorial nature of this phenomenon.

In this review, we explore the role of glycation in ageing skin while also delving into alternative theories of ageing, providing a comprehensive overview of the current understanding of this complex biological process.

Table of Contents

Understanding Glycation and Aging Skin

Ageing is a multifaceted process influenced by both endogenous and exogenous factors, with the skin serving as a visible indicator of the body’s ageing trajectory. Endogenous ageing, characterised by intrinsic cellular changes, and exogenous ageing, driven by environmental stressors like ultraviolet (UV) radiation, converge to manifest the distinctive features of aged skin. These include diminished elasticity, impaired wound healing, and vascular abnormalities, all of which contribute to the overall ageing phenotype.

Among the myriad mechanisms underlying ageing, glycation has gained significant attention in recent years. Glycation, a non-enzymatic process, involves the covalent bonding of sugar molecules to proteins, lipids, or nucleic acids, giving rise to advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Initially linked to diabetic complications, AGEs have since been implicated in various age-related diseases, including atherosclerosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Notably, glycation also plays a pivotal role in skin ageing, as evidenced by the structural and functional changes observed in aged skin, colloquially referred to as “sugar sag.”


Biochemical Processes in AGE Formation

Glycation encompasses a series of complex reactions, prominently featuring the Maillard reaction, wherein sugar molecules react with amino groups of biomolecules to form unstable intermediates. These intermediates undergo rearrangement to generate Amadori products, which may further evolve into stable AGEs. AGE formation is influenced by factors such as hyperglycemia, temperature, and oxidative stress, culminating in the modification of proteins like collagen, elastin, and fibronectin, key components of the skin’s extracellular matrix.


Collagen, with its prolonged half-life, is particularly susceptible to glycation-induced modifications, leading to altered biomechanical properties and impaired turnover. Additionally, AGEs interfere with cellular functions, exacerbating dermal dysfunction and compromising wound healing. Notably, UV radiation exacerbates AGE formation, further exacerbating skin ageing through oxidative stress pathways.

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Impact of High AGEs Diet on Your Body and Skin

As we age, our bodies naturally accumulate Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs), but their presence in relatively young individuals is raising concerns within the healthcare community. This suggests that modern dietary habits are prompting premature damage to the body.


AGEs accumulate in blood vessels, leading to oxidative damage in the surrounding tissues. Over time, this damage can contribute to the development of various diseases. Let’s explore some of the health conditions associated with elevated AGE levels:

  1. Diabetes Mellitus: Diabetes Mellitus, a metabolic disorder characterized by insulin insensitivity or inadequate insulin production, affects multiple body systems, including cardiovascular, nervous, renal, digestive, and endocrine systems.
  2. Atherosclerosis: Repeated formation of AGEs can contribute to atherosclerosis, the hardening and blockage of arteries due to cholesterol buildup. High consumption of AGE-rich foods increases the risk of heart disease.
  3. Alzheimer’s Disease: Neurodegenerative disorder Alzheimer’s disease affects cognition, memory, and behavior. Accumulation of AGEs in brain tissue may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
  4. Cataracts: Cataracts, characterized by opacities on the eye’s lens leading to impaired vision, typically affect the elderly. Elevated AGE levels can accelerate cataract formation.
  5. Sarcopenia: Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass and function, can result from oxidative damage caused by AGEs, leading to decreased strength and mobility.
  6. Delayed Wound Healing: High levels of AGEs in the body can impair wound healing, compromising the skin’s natural barrier against pathogens and leading to prolonged recovery times.
  7. End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD): ESRD occurs when kidney damage reaches a point where recovery is no longer possible. Accumulation of AGEs in the kidneys’ microvasculature is implicated in the development of ESRD.

In summary, reducing intake of AGE-rich foods may help mitigate the risk of developing these age-related diseases and promote overall health and well-being.

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Combating AGEs with Diet

Dietary interventions offer a promising avenue for mitigating glycation-mediated skin ageing. Preformed AGEs, derived from food sources, contribute to systemic AGE burden upon absorption in the gut. Cooking methods significantly influence AGE content in food, with grilling and frying yielding higher levels compared to water-based methods like boiling and steaming.

Every time you indulge in fried or glazed foods, such as French fries or grilled chicken with a beautiful golden crust, or treat yourself to sweets and cakes, remember the presence of AGEs and their potential impact on your skin. Saying ‘hello’ to these indulgences could mean saying ‘hello’ to wrinkles.

Here is the list of ten foods that are typically high in Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs):

  1. Fried foods: Such as french fries, fried chicken, and fried fish.
  2. Processed meats: Including bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and deli meats.
  3. Grilled or charred meats: Especially when cooked at high temperatures, such as barbecue meats.
  4. Baked goods: Such as pastries, cookies, cakes, and pies, especially those with added sugars.
  5. Sugary snacks: Including candy bars, chocolate, and sweetened cereals.
  6. Fast food items: Such as burgers, pizza, and fried chicken sandwiches.
  7. Packaged snacks: Like potato chips, crackers, and snack cakes.
  8. Sugar-sweetened beverages: Including soda, sweetened iced tea, and energy drinks.
  9. Processed and packaged foods: Such as microwave meals, instant noodles, and processed cheese.
  10. High-fat dairy products: Such as full-fat cheese, ice cream, and cream-based desserts.

A low-AGE diet, coupled with tight glycemic control, shows potential in  reducing AGE accumulation and ameliorating skin ageing-related outcomes. Culinary herbs and spices, such as cinnamon and ginger, exhibit anti-glycation properties, while antioxidants like resveratrol demonstrate protective effects against AGE-induced tissue damage. Furthermore, supplements like L-carnitine have shown promise in reducing AGE levels in clinical settings.

Mushroom extracts have gained attention in recent years for their potential to neutralize Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) due to their powerful antioxidant properties. Research suggests that certain compounds found in mushrooms, such as polysaccharides and phenolic compounds, have strong antioxidant activity, which can help counteract the oxidative stress associated with AGE formation. 

These antioxidants work by scavenging free radicals and inhibiting the formation of AGEs, thus protecting against glycation-related damage to proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids. Additionally, mushroom extracts have been shown to modulate key enzymes involved in glycation processes, further contributing to their anti-glycation effects. Incorporating mushroom extracts into the diet or using them as dietary supplements may offer a natural and effective strategy for mitigating the harmful effects of AGEs and promoting overall health and longevity.

10 foods that are generally low in Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs):

  1. Fresh fruits: Such as berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries), apples, oranges, and bananas.
  2. Vegetables: Including leafy greens (spinach, kale, lettuce), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), and bell peppers.
  3. Whole grains: Such as brown rice, quinoa, barley, and oats.
  4. Lean proteins: Including skinless poultry (chicken, turkey), fish (salmon, trout, cod), tofu, and legumes (beans, lentils).
  5. Eggs: Especially when prepared using low-heat cooking methods like boiling or poaching.
  6. Nuts and seeds: Such as almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
  7. Herbs and spices: Including garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and oregano.
  8. Dairy products: Such as plain yogurt, milk, and cheese (opt for low-fat varieties).
  9. Healthy fats: Found in avocados, olive oil, and coconut oil.
  10. Green tea: Known for its antioxidant properties, green tea is a refreshing beverage that may help reduce AGE formation in the body.

Overcoming Challenges and Charting Future Directions

Despite the wealth of evidence supporting dietary interventions in combating glycation-mediated skin ageing, translating these findings into clinical practice poses challenges. Logistical constraints and ethical considerations complicate human studies, necessitating innovative research approaches to validate dietary strategies effectively. Nevertheless, awareness of the impact of diet on glycation and skin ageing is imperative, underscoring the role of clinicians in integrating dietary counselling into patient care alongside other preventive measures.

In conclusion, unravelling the intricate interplay between glycation, diet, and skin ageing represents a crucial frontier in anti-aging research. By elucidating the mechanisms underlying glycation and exploring dietary interventions, we move closer to unlocking the secrets of youthful skin and promoting healthy ageing for all.

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Alona Arel
The information on this page is checked by Alona Arel. She’s an expert on beauty and longevity and often asked to share her knowledge. For example for Healthline and Lifehacker.

The information on this page was last updated on May 1, 2024

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