"Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we are born." - Albert Einstein
It is easy to say, 'Don’t grow old’. However many times you say it, the fact of the matter is you WILL grow old, at least physically. That is the way nature is. One way to not grow old is to keep your mind young. That way, you will enjoy life and look forward to every day with hope.
Keep yourself young of mind. In other words, remain curious!
But what about the ailments that come along with old age? Let us find out how sugar and ageing are related.
How about letting curiosity lead our way to the mystery of diabetes, one of the ailments that is growing exponentially among the elderly in India? After all, 'forewarned is being forearmed'.
Table of Contents
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high blood glucose levels due to reduced insulin effectiveness. This can be caused by insufficient insulin production or cells becoming resistant to its effects.
The prevalence of type 2 diabetes increases with age due to insulin resistance and decreased pancreatic islet function. Most individuals over 60 with diabetes have type 2, and insulin secretion may be severely reduced in later stages.
Ageing affects blood sugar regulation through various mechanisms. This includes decreased responsiveness of cells to insulin, increased release of glucose by the liver, and reduced muscle mass, which affects glucose metabolism. These factors, along with high-sugar diets and physical activity, can lead to impaired blood sugar regulation in older adults and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Other risk factors associated with ageing, such as weight gain, decreased physical activity, and changes in body composition, also contribute to the development and progression of type 2 diabetes. Therefore, older individuals must manage their blood glucose levels through a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of diabetes.
Magnitude in the Indian context
According to Statista, in 2023, 43.4% of senior Indian citizens (age 60 and above) are diabetic. This is about 14% of the population.
Managing diabetes in older people is crucial due to unique challenges, coexisting health conditions, complex medication regimens, and the higher risk of complications such as heart disease, vision problems, and nerve damage.
Effective diabetes management can significantly improve the quality of life of older individuals and prevent these complications. As the senior population grows, understanding the specific considerations for diabetes management in older adults is essential for protecting their well-being and health.
Common risk factors for type 2 diabetes include genetics, unhealthy lifestyle habits, age, obesity, physical inactivity, a poor diet, and high blood pressure. Older adults are more susceptible due to age-related changes in insulin sensitivity, muscle mass reduction, metabolic changes, cumulative lifestyle factors, and genetic predisposition. Older individuals need to prioritize a healthy lifestyle to reduce their risk.
Sugar and Ageing
It is natural for the skin to age. A research study by Colorado University found that consumption of high-fructose-sweetened beverages (colas containing more than 505% high fructose corn syrup or sucrose) is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. (Source: research.colostate.edu)
In the natural ageing process, glucose and fructose link the amino acids present in the collagen and elastin that support the dermis, along with bloodstream sugar-producing harmful free radicals called advanced glycation end products. In the glycation process and the formation of AGEs, proteins and lipids become damaged and unable to perform their normal functions.
So, that sweet tooth of yours is harming you in more ways than one. Luckily, solutions are abundant. Allow yourself eight hours of sleep, avoid stress, and avoid direct UV rays to sugar-proof your skin.
Young people: Frequent urination, increased thirst, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, and slow wound healing are all symptoms of diabetes that can be overlooked or attributed to ageing in older adults.
The Elderly: Older adults with diabetes may have atypical symptoms, comorbidities, medication interactions, and cognitive impairment, which can complicate their health management.
Atypical Symptoms: Older adults may present with atypical symptoms like confusion, falls, or incontinence, making diagnosis more challenging.
Comorbidities: Diabetes often coexists with other conditions in older adults, leading to complex health management.
Medication Interactions: Older adults may take multiple medications, which can interact with diabetes drugs.
Cognitive Impairment: Cognitive decline in older adults can affect self-management of diabetes.
Diagnosing diabetes in older adults involves screening, testing, and clinical evaluation. The American Diabetes Association recommends that adults aged 45 years and older, especially those with risk factors, undergo screening for diabetes. If screening results are indicative of diabetes or if symptoms are present, healthcare providers typically perform blood tests to determine blood sugar levels and the presence of diabetes.
Healthcare providers also assess the overall health of older adults, considering comorbidities, functional status, cognitive function, and the impact of diabetes on daily life. Regular check-ups are crucial for older adults diagnosed with diabetes as they enable ongoing monitoring of blood sugar levels, adjustments in treatment plans, prevention of complications, medication management, and guidance on lifestyle changes. Prioritizing these check-ups is essential for the continued well-being of older adults.
Managing diabetes in older adults involves a holistic approach, including lifestyle changes, medication reviews, patient education, and regular monitoring. Treatment options include lifestyle modifications, oral medications, non-insulin injectable medications, and insulin therapy.
Comprehensive care should consider the individual's overall health and comorbidities, with coordination with other specialists if needed. Regular reviews of medications are essential to avoid interactions. The focus should be on preventing hypoglycemia and promoting adherence to treatment plans for adequate care.
Excess sugar intake can lead to various complications in older adults, including cardiovascular diseases, nerve damage, vision problems, kidney damage, peripheral vascular disease, stroke, and infections.
These complications can result in conditions such as coronary artery disease, diabetic neuropathy, diabetic retinopathy, diabetic nephropathy, poor circulation, ulcers, and delayed wound healing. Regular monitoring and management are essential to mitigate these risks.
To prevent diabetes in older adults, it is important to:
- Maintain a healthy weight (no sugary foods)
- Stay physically active with exercise
- Adopt a balanced diet (say no to alcohol and too much of refined sugar)
- Limit sugary beverages
- Control portion sizes
- Monitor carbohydrate intake
- Stay hydrated with water
- Schedule regular health check-ups
It is essential to stay updated about the hidden sugar rampant in processed foods through food labels. “Free sugar” is a term used to describe any sugar that is added to food or drink or the sugar that is already in honey, syrup, and fruit juice. These sugars are called “free” because they are not inside the cells of our food. The sugars found in fruit, vegetables, and milk don’t seem to have a negative effect on our health, and they come with extra nutrients, such as fibre.
These measures can help reduce the risk of diabetes and promote overall health. Eat sweet treats if you really need them, but only in moderation. You need to live long enough to show the world that there is life beyond diabetes.
In the realm of nutrition, it is vital to maintain a curious spirit. As we grow older, our bodies undergo changes in how they metabolize sugar and other nutrients. To navigate this journey effectively, we must stay open to learning, adapting, and making informed choices. The mysteries of the human body are vast, and understanding the relationship between sugar and ageing is an ongoing quest.
This blog has shed light on the potential effects of sugar on ageing, from its role in inflammation to its impact on age-related diseases. It has emphasized the significance of a balanced diet, moderation in sugar consumption, and adopting a proactive, health-conscious lifestyle.
Just as a child gazes with amazement at the unknown, so should we approach the mysteries of sugar's impact on our bodies as we age. Let our approach to ageing be one of continual discovery, embracing the great mystery of life with a youthful and inquisitive spirit. In doing so, we empower ourselves to age gracefully, maintaining our health and a sense of wonder as we journey into the unknown.
So, along with solving skin ageing, why not build your general health as well?
Talk about 'killing two birds with one stone'. Take care!
Does sugar contribute to ageing?
Yes, excessive sugar consumption can contribute to ageing by promoting inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, factors linked to the ageing process.
Will I look younger if I stop eating sugar?
Reducing sugar intake may contribute to a more youthful appearance as it helps reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, potentially slowing down the ageing process.
How does sugar make your skin age faster?
Sugar accelerates skin ageing by triggering a process called glycation, where sugar molecules bind to proteins like collagen, leading to the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which contribute to wrinkles and loss of skin elasticity.