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  • Rajani Katta MD

Eat the right foods to preserve youthful collagen

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

The fiber and protein in power carbs like lentils can help keep blood sugar levels steady, one of the keys to preserving youthful collagen.

Over the years, I've had a lot of patients ask me about their wrinkles. Specifically, are there any creams that can help with deep wrinkles? That's a tough one. There are many options when it comes to treating fine lines and wrinkles. Unfortunately, your options narrow when it comes to deep wrinkles and a sagging jawline.

Deep wrinkles and sagging skin are a sign of significant damage to the collagen and elastic fibers in the skin

The problem is that by the time you see sagging skin, you've already experienced significant damage to the collagen and elastic fibers in the skin. Some of that is due to age and genetic factors. Much of it is due to damage from external sources, such as UV radiation and pollution (and smoking in some people). But some of it is due to diet.

Many people don't realize just how much diet can impact our collagen. In fact, one of the cornerstones of an anti-wrinkle diet is eating foods that help maintain steady blood sugar levels.

Or, as I like to say, prevent sugar sag by stopping sugar spikes. What is the link between blood sugar and collagen?

Physicians have actually known for decades that patients with diabetes have poor wound healing. One of the reasons is that the elevated blood sugar levels in diabetics cause changes in collagen. Those same effects on collagen can be seen on our face. Specifically, higher levels of blood sugar can result in the cross-linking of collagen fibers through a process called glycation.

This results in advanced glycation end products, fittingly known as AGEs. As these accumulate, you'll start to see increased stiffness of the skin and a loss of elasticity. These cross-linked collagen fibers also can't be repaired as easily. The end result? A loss of skin elasticity, with wrinkling and sagging skin.

We call this sugar sag, and one of the keys to avoidance is maintaining steady levels of blood sugar. Of course, one of the keys to maintaining steady blood sugar is avoiding foods that spike our blood sugar. That definitely means limiting added sugars in the diet, whether that's from cookies or sodas or sweetened iced teas.

It also means limiting refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates include foods like white bread, white rice, and pasta. These foods are lower in nutrients and lower in fiber. That means that they're digested and processed quickly by our system, which can send our blood sugar soaring. Focusing on unrefined carbohydrates instead, or what I call "power carbs", is important. The fiber and protein (which help put the "power" in "power carbs") in foods like whole grains, beans and lentils help to stabilize blood sugar levels. It's also helpful to eat carbohydrate-rich foods along with sources of protein and fat in your meal, since this also helps slow the release of glucose into your bloodstream. There are other strategies to help stabilize blood sugar levels, and I'll go over these in future posts. The take away message: to prevent sugar sag, you need to limit sugar spikes. That means that if you want to preserve youthful collagen, focus on power carbohydrates (such as whole grains, beans and lentils) that supply the fiber, protein, and other nutrients that help keep blood sugar levels steady.

Dr. Rajani Katta is the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. To receive future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.

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