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  • Rajani Katta MD

The Power of Spice: How Spices May Protect Against Collagen Damage

Updated: Aug 16, 2020


Can spices help protect your collagen? Research suggests that yes, they may.

It's well-known that patients with diabetes have poor wound healing. Some of that is due to the effects of blood sugar on the collagen in our skin.

These same effects may lead to accelerated skin aging. In other words, high blood sugar levels may impact the collagen in our skin, ultimately leading to "sugar sag."

How do the levels of glucose in our blood impact the collagen in our skin? Research has shown that higher levels of blood sugar can result in the formation of advanced glycation end products (known as AGEs). These develop through glycation, a type of reaction between a sugar and a protein (or other substance) in our body. This process has been shown to impact the collagen in our skin, and can result in cross-linking of collagen fibers.

These cross-linked collagen fibers result in a loss of skin elasticity (which means the skin can't "bounce back" as easily). These cross-linked collagen fibers also can't be repaired as easily. The end result is accelerated skin aging, with wrinkling and sagging of the skin.

We call this sugar sag, and one of the keys in avoidance is maintaining steady blood sugar levels.

Apart from avoiding spikes in blood sugar levels, are there any other ways to prevent sugar sag?

Interestingly, researchers have found that spices may help prevent sugar sag. In one laboratory study, certain spices acted to inhibit protein glycation. These spices included cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper. While these results need to be confirmed in human volunteers, it's certainly a promising finding, especially given how easy and safe it is to add more spice to our diet.

I now add an extra dose of spice to just about every meal I cook. While some spices add heat, many of the spices I use add flavor without heat. (Such as cinnamon.)

Adding more spices to a dish leads to a more flavorful meal. And it's a simple way to add an extra dose of skin-saving nutrients.

The take-away message: There are multiple factors that accelerate collagen damage and promote wrinkling and aging of the skin. Spices may help protect against collagen damage, and are an easy (and flavorful) addition to a diet.

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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