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How sugar impacts on skin health

Thursday January 3, 2019
How sugar impacts on skin health

What effect can sugar have on the skin?


From acne to wrinkles…Sugar has sneaked into our food consistently since the industrial revolution, programming our brains and palate to want more of the sweet stuff.  But it’s not just sugar, its high glycaemic foods overall; foods that convert to blood glucose at an extremely rapid rate.  A sugar dump into the blood triggers insulin and adrenaline secretions causing a rollercoaster ride of peaks and troughs in energy, cognitive function, stress and inflammation.  Consequently, research studies are now delving in to the potential effects of a sugar-rich diet and its effect on the body.

A revelation of sugar-related ageing

A marker of premature cellular ageing is telomere length; telomeres form a cap over the end of DNA almost like the protective plastic end to a shoelace.  Each time DNA is copied the telomeres shorten, however, it is becoming more apparent that via diet and lifestyle we can influence this rate of reduction otherwise known as ageing.  Accelerated loss of telomere length has been associated to obesity, insulin resistance and physical inactivity; all hallmarks of type II diabetes, blood sugar imbalance and excessive sugar intake.  Furthermore, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that assess over 5,000 individuals reported an association between sweetened beverage intake and ageing.

Often when we think of ageing, we think of wrinkled skin and the loss of skin elasticity, and for good reason; a primary cause of wrinkled skin is the effect of advanced glycation end products (AGE) which cause proteins to cross link.  AGEs are products of sugar and heavily charred foods that can damage collagen and skin tissues causing irreparable cross linkages and subsequent wrinkling. Sugar related ageing is a highly inflammatory process that triggers a vicious cycle of oxidative stress and the spread of inflammation.



Acne and imbalances

The relationship between diet and acne has been highly discussed and disputed; this was partially fuelled by flawed research studies.  However, more recent research has provided strong support for diet as a potential influence on acne development.  Research has substantiated the role of specific foods, such as those with high glycaemic load; typical of the Western diet.  It is thought that the vicious cycle of blood sugar peaks and corresponding insulin secretion inhibits normal hormone conversion causing increased circulating androgens and subsequently increased sebaceous secretions and acne.


Interestingly, researchers have counter-tested the link between the Western diet and acne; they reported that acne was absent in native non-Westernized populations, such as in Papua New Guinea and Paraguay.  Furthermore, when acne prone individuals follow a low glycaemic diet the acne has been found to improve.

Diabetic psoriasis crisis

Type II diabetes (DMTII) is closely linked to poor blood sugar control and insulin resistance brought about by a typical high glycaemic Western diet; similarly, those with DMTII are more likely to develop psoriasis.  It is thought that the inflammation of insulin resistance triggers dermal inflammation and the subsequent increased excessive skin cell production.  Such a highly inflammatory environment is highly associated to cardiovascular disease through the spread of inflammation.


It begs to question whether sweets, biscuits and chocolate should come with a poor skin warning!
Removing added sugars from the diet is a great start to reducing the risk of premature ageing and skin conditions.  Further attention to the sugar content of foods can promote balanced blood sugar thorough the adherence of a low glycaemic index diet.  Additionally, there are nutrients such as chromium, cinnamon and alpha lipoic acid that can help reducing sugar and balancing blood sugar easier.  


Author: Jenny Carson is a Nutritional Practitioner and Technical Supervisor at Viridian Nutrition. She holds a BSc honours degree in Nutritional Science.


Viridian Nutrition is the leading supplier of food supplements to specialist independent health food stores. For information about personalised solutions visit

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April W. Armstrong, MD, MPH; Caitlin T. Harskamp, BA; Ehrin J. Armstrong, MD, MSc Psoriasis and the Risk of Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.  JAMA Dermatol.  
2013;149(1):84-91. doi:10.1001/2013.jamadermatol.406

Cathy E. Elks, Robert A. Scott.  The Long and Short of Telomere Length and Diabetes
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Danby FW. Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation. Clin Dermatol. 2010 Jul-Aug;28(4):409-11. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2010.03.018.

Katta, R., & Desai, S. P. (2014). Diet and Dermatology: The Role of Dietary Intervention in Skin Disease. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 7(7), 46–51.

Kwon HH, Yoon JY, Hong JS, et al. Clinical and histological effect of a low glycaemic load diet in treatment of acne vulgaris in Korean patients: a randomized, controlled trial. Acta Derm Venereol. 2012;92(3):241–246.

Leung CW, Laraia BA, Needham BL, Rehkopf DH, Adler NE, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Epel ES. Soda and cell aging: associations between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and leukocyte telomere length in healthy adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Am J Public Health. 2014 Dec;104(12):2425-31. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302151. Epub 2014 Oct 16.

Mehta NN, Azfar RS, Shin DB, et al. Patients with severe psoriasis are at increased risk of cardiovascular mortality: cohort study using the general practice research database. Eur Heart J. 2010;31(8):1000–1006.

Ravichandran Ramasamy, Susan J. Vannucci, Shirley Shi Du Yan, Kevan Herold, Shi Fang Yan, Ann Marie Schmidt; Advanced glycation end products and RAGE: a common thread in aging, diabetes, neurodegeneration, and inflammation, Glycobiology, Volume 15, Issue 7, 1 July 2005, Pages 16R–28R,

Spah F. Inflammation in atherosclerosis and psoriasis: common pathogenic mechanisms and the potential for an integrated treatment approach. Br J Dermatol. 2008;1592(Suppl):10–7.

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The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.


TAGS: Nutrition News and Viewssugar, skin health, sugar detox


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