The Not So Sweet Truth About Sugar

Let's face it, we all love to indulge over the holiday season. Sugar-filled treats and drinks, as delicious as they are, can impact the body in a variety of ways, including the appearance of your skin. Not only bad for your skin, research has found that consuming only 40 grams of sugar from a 375ml can of soft drink a day can lead to an increase of inflammatory markers, insulin resistance and weight gain.

Sugar can play a role in a variety of skin issues, including premature ageing and oil production (which can lead to more acne breakouts). But how?

Sugar = increased inflammation.

Overconsumption of sugar can lead to inflammation in the body which can aggravate the skin. When you eat high Glycemic Index (GI) foods such as white sugar, candy, soft drinks, or baked goods, it leads to a spike in your blood sugar levels at a quick rate, which in turn sends a signal to your pancreas to release insulin triggering inflammation. This inflammation can exacerbate skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, rosacea and eczema. Excessive intake of sugar can also lead to dehydration in the skin and contribute to the skin looking less bouncy and dark circles. 

 Collagen breakdown

Diets high in sugar are thought to accelerate skin ageing as high GI foods contribute to the breakdown of collagen fibres in a process known as glycation. Glycation refers to the bonding of sugar molecules to proteins, fats and amino acids. This bond is central to skin ageing as once glycated, proteins become rigid, less functional and contribute to the production of free radicals. How?

When glycation occurs, a new substance is created called advanced glycation end products or AGEs. AGEs can contribute to the breakdown of the body's proteins, and unfortunately, this includes the ones that give us a youthful complexion, elastin and collagen (which impacts skin firmness and contributes to wrinkling). The presence of AGEs also makes your complexion more vulnerable to damage from UV light and cigarette smoke.

Gut health

When you overindulge on sugar, it can affect the make-up of your gut microbiome, which in turn can impact the health of your skin. To function optimally, your gut microbiome needs a diet high in prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods to allow the good bacteria to flourish. If you are eating too much sugar, you are providing fuel for yeasts like Candida albicans and harmful bacteria which can outnumber the good guys and lead to dysbiosis. Alterations to your gut microbiome can not only affect the skin, but can lead to a variety of other problems such as reduced cognitive functioning, impaired memory and slower bowel transit times. To help rebalance your gut microbiome after a sugar binge, give Regul8's Digestive Tune-Up a try.

Are artificial sweeteners better?

Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners miss the mark, and they can have a similar effect on the body as real sugar. Sugar substitutes such as Splenda can temporarily elevate insulin levels, and just like the real deal, can change the composition of the gut microbiome. Research has found that people who frequently consume artificial sweeteners have a significantly altered gut microbiome, which has been subsequently linked to weight gain, higher fasting blood glucose and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Artificial sweeteners have also been linked to skin disorders such as acne that are related to high insulin, so it's best to give them a miss.

Minimise the risks

To protect your skin from the effects of sugar, try these tips:

  • Swap out refined grains and sugars with fibre-rich, low GI carbohydrates.
  • Include plenty of healthy fats for supple skin, such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables daily that are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and fibre. Berries are great because of their high antioxidant content.
  • Be aware of hidden sugar! Sugar is present in so many foods you may not realise including soups, sauces and salad dressings. Always check the labels for sugar content.