AGE isn’t what you think it is as far as scientists are concerned; AGE is an acronym for Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs), toxic molecules that are formed when DNA, proteins, and fats become bound together after exposure to sugar. They’re a by-product of cell metabolism and are also found in some of the foods we eat. Some are genetically more prone to producing AGEs than others, regardless of what they eat.

AGEs in our bodies

AGEs make cells older before their time and will accumulate in our tissues like barnacles on the bottom of a boat. Unlike barnacles though, once formed, they can’t be “scraped off” and their damage is irreversible. Unfortunately, a Western diet full of processed foods, ramps up blood sugar levels and AGEs form.

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Pankaj Kapahi, a research professor at the Buck Institute, thinks the research community has neglected the importance of AGEs because they are too challenging to study. He’s on a self-appointed mission to get his colleagues to focus on AGEs as a generator of many age-related diseases and made his case last month in a review article recently published in the journal, Cell Metabolism. He is determined to give AGEs its rightful place in research on aging.  “When you’re looking at a biological process that impacts so many diseases you know you’re onto something interesting,” he said.  “That’s why I’m excited. That’s why we took the effort to write the review.” Prior to his review, science viewed AGEs in the same way they saw wrinkles – an inevitable part of the aging process cloaked in mystery and mostly inconsequential. Kapahi is changing that.

So far scientists at his lab have found a sensor related to AGEs and the complications of diabetes in the nematode C. elegans. The lab is also working on a project exploring a link between diabetes and Parkinson’s disease by identifying a gene that produces the enzyme that detoxifies the compounds that cause AGEs. Mutations in this gene are linked to a genetic form of Parkinson’s. This finding may serve as the basis for developing successful treatments for this disease that affects more than 1 million people in the United States alone.

AGEs in foods

We now know what AGEs do to our bodies, so there’s good reason to avoid foods that create triggers to forming them. Which foods trigger AGEs to create those nasty toxic molecules that make us age quicker?

If you’re looking for the effects of sugars binding with proteins and fats to form AGEs, first, look no further than your frying pan.

Fried meats – That brown crust on your grilled and fried red meat is pure AGEs. Poaching, steaming, braising, or stewing your meats would help avoid it. Fried chicken is the biggest offender, with six times the amount of AGEs than boiled chicken.

Grains – AGE content can soar when those grains are processed into crispy brown crackers or sugar-sweetened cookies.

Butter and Cheese – Yogurt and other dairy products have low AGEs, but when the moisture is removed, leaving the fat content consolidated like in butter and cheese, AGEs proliferate.

What can more can we do to avoid these compounds? According to Kapahi, “Unfortunately, AGEs taste great, even the worms and flies prefer them when they have an option. Overall, I think it’s good to follow a Mediterranean-type diet with lots of vegetables and whole grains with small portions of meat or other proteins.”

So, don’t put away your grill just yet.


The Role of Advanced Glycation End Products in Aging and Metabolic Diseases: Bridging Association and Causality. Cell Metabolism. The Buck Institute for Research on Aging, 8001 Redwood Boulevard, Novato, CA 94945, USA; Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Glycation Oxidation and Research laboratory, Vallejo, CA, 94592, USA; University of California, Department of Urology, 400 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA. September 4, 2018.