Toxins Found In Food and the Diseases They Create by Halina Vlassara

Researchers at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine report that food preparation may be just as important to overall health as the food itself.  In a study published in the Journal of Gerontology:  Medical Sciences, Helen Vlassara and her colleagues discuss a class of toxins called advanced glycation end (AGE) products, which are produced by heating food via pasteurization, grilling, frying, and broiling.  AGEs also help create the tasteful flavors associated with food exposed to high heat, and food manufacturers will often add AGEs exogenously to their processed products.

High AGE levels have been found associated with inflammation, insulin resistance, diabetes, vascular and kidney diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease.  What makes AGEs so toxic is their ability to facilitate covalent (permanent) crosslinks between proteins, which alters the structure and function of these molecules.  AGEs also bind various cell receptors, leading to their intake into the cell, where they promote inflammatory events.

AGEs are accumulated over a person’s lifetime, with a significant portion (10%) derived from food.  The body does have natural defense mechanisms for ridding itself of AGEs, at least up to a point.  Ingestion of greater than average amounts of AGEs, however, outpaces one’s ability to clear these toxins.  This is concerning in light of the fact that studies in animals have shown a link between high dietary  AGE intake and diabetes related tissue damage, as well as shorter total lifespan.  Furthermore, prior studies of diabetic patients’ blood had shown high AGE levels when compared with blood from non – diabetic individuals.

In this report, Vlassara and her group collected blood samples from a total of 172 individuals aged 18 – 45 and 60 to 80.  Two common GEs were measured: carboxymethyllysine and methylglyoxal, both of which alter proteins and fats.  Test results showed that AGE levels were up to 35% higher in individuals aged 65 and older when compared with those aged 45 years and younger.  This was not surprising, since older people have reduced capacity to eliminate AGEs from their system.  However, AGE levels of the younger group could rise to the same levels as those of the older group depending on diet, along with other inflammatory factors, such as C-reactive protein.  Comparing these AGE data to prior AGE data, Vlassara found that some younger individuals had values on par with those of diabetic patients.

These findings suggest that prolonged exposure of AGEs may explain the rise of inflammatory conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.  Vlassara cautioned against widespread grilling, frying, and broiling of foods such as meat and cheese, suggesting other methods like steaming and boiling.  Maintaining the inherent water content of foods also reduces AGE levels.  Because there is currently no clinical test for AGE levels and no medication to lower those levels, different methods of cooking are the best defense.  “The concept that food – related AGE intake is harmful is new to the general public,” states Vlassara, “this issue, however, should be dealt with now, rather than later.”

Sources: Food Preparation May Play A Big Role In Chronic Disease http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20070/04/070424155559.ht m

M. Peppa, J Uribarri and H. Vlassara. Glucose, Advanced Glycation End products, and Diabetes Complications:  What Is New and What Works.  Clinical Diabetes 21:186-187,2003. http://clinical.diabetesjournals.org/cgi/content/full/21/4/186

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