Will sugar make you old?

As the sugar debate rages on and governing bodies rethink current guidelines we asked the UK's leading nutritionist, Dr Marilyn Glenville all the questions you really want answered when it comes to sugar...

Will sugar make you old?

Sugar isn't just causing us to overeat, it's also doing untold damage to our immune systems and skin says Dr Marilyn Glenville. She explains how we can turn back the clock, stay healthy and cut back on sugar...

Does sugar age you?All you need to know about sugar
Yes, it is aging. It reacts with protein, creating advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). These substances cause skin to be wrinkled and cell structures to harden. If you think of the way arteries harden to cause coronary heart disease a similar process takes place in the cells of the skin. 

Are some sugars worse for you than others?
When sugar is contained naturally within food you’re also usually taking in a lot of fibre, which slows the digestion of the sugar and causes less of an impact on blood sugar. Refined sugars are where the problems are.

SkinIs it ever too late to save your skin?
I would always say it’s never too late for lifestyle changes. While sugar speeds up aging, adopting healthier habits will in turn start to slow this process – whatever your age. Our bodies are really adaptable in that way.

Are there any foods that help to counteract the effects of excess sugar?
Yes, the thinking now is that we should eat a rainbow. It’s the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables that protect us from free radical damage, which causes us to age faster and can increases the risk of things like heart disease and cancer.

Our bodies are oxidising all the time – it’s like we’re rusting! In different colours of fruit and vegetables you'll find different antioxidants. For example, beta-carotene in carrots, lycopene in tomatoes - the more variety we have across both fruit and veg the more protection we provide our bodies.

How does sugar impact the immune system?heart
We have to think of sugar as being empty calories with no nutritional value. As well as the increased risk of things like type 2 diabetes, eating too much refined sugar creates more inflammation in the body, which can increase the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Another big concern is that when blood sugar levels drop, stress hormones are released and so it’s common to feel a lot more anxious and tense as a result. That in turn can affect the immune system, thyroid function, energy levels and digestion. The increased release of these hormones from eating too much sugar can also cause the body to hold on to fat, particularly around the stomach area.

What is your opinion of substitutes such as stevia, xylitol etc?
Fructose (found in many natural sweeteners) tends to have a greater impact on the liver and, instead of causing an insulin spike, sits in the liver and may lead to other health issues such as high cholesterol.

Artificial sweeteners are often used to cut calories and won’t cause an insulin spike. However, research has shown that they can actually increase appetite and therefore lead to weight gain. This is because when the body receives a sweet hit we are expecting calories, so when they aren’t delivered we seek out more food to satisfy our energy needs.

With natural sweeteners like xylitol, stevia etc, you have to be careful as they can be heavily processed with added ingredients. For example, stevia may contain added fructose (fruit sugar) so it’s very important to read the labels.

Are there any buzz words people should look for on the labels?Stevia
Yes, look out for any kind of extra sugars, so for example fructose or maltodextrin are common additives. If you’re buying something like stevia that’s all you want to see in the ingredients list.

I’m more inclined to use syrups, brown rice syrup or maple syrup for example, which are just the natural food itself. I think, if eaten in moderation, they’re generally better than a lot of the substitutes.


​This article was last reviewed on 25th March 2015 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.

Find out more about Dr Marilyn Glenville and look out for her Women's Wellbeing Weekends coming soon to Champneys health spas.

Are you concerned about sugar or have you kicked the sweet stuff for good? Read more about sugar and tell us what you think below...


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24th Jul, 2014
Is agave a better substitute than stevia?
24th Jul, 2014
Hello, I have now been hooked on healthy living for about 10 years. I am now off sugar in my hot drinks, but use a teaspoon of honey each beverage, accept hot choclate at 11-30 each morning. I am male, 63, slim at 9.5 stones approx. The more I read (in context) the more I experiment. I have added 16 herbs and spices to my breakfast for about 1.7years. My skin is much better texture, cuts heal up in 2-3 days, my last opticians test revealed no prescription change at all over the last 2 years, that was last Oct 2013. I used 5 spices for the first 5 months, Cumin (40 ingredients), corriander, cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric; by the December - 2 months after starting, my hearing was challenged through a science TV programme which a lecturer had setup an audio oscillator in the studio that the audience could listen to each of 7Khz; 10; then lastly 13Khz. Each time the participants would sit down if they could not hear the tone, gradually more sat down the higher up the scale he went. At 10 Khz I knew that I would not hear above this but then at 13 Khz I screamed "I can hear that"! Since then, as I further added more herbs and spices there was not a discernable difference except the skin tone improvement. I do the Luminosity brain exercises, and this may help me to fine tune what I eat as new theories are tried. Next, a nutritionist (in his late 80's) came up with: 'Italians have a life expectancy of 62 years (mediterainian diet? and they use a lot of olive oil) well, there are some people group that live on the north African coast, with a life expectancy of 91 years, and they do not have Olive groves or wheat! - bye.
16th Jul, 2014
A good article, easy to understand and improve knowledge regarding SUGAR. I read another article related to sugar previously and it made me stop to consume a ready to go tea drink (traditional jasmine tea with sugar served in a glass bottle - a famous local brand ), remove refined sugar from my kitchen and replace by palm sugar or brown sugar if it's necessary. Natural sugar taste better and more safe (in relation to production process) compared to refined sugar
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