Blood sugar, or more accurately blood glucose level, is a very important aspect of human physiology because glucose is the primary fuel for the central nervous system. If the blood level of glucose drops below a certain point for a long enough period of time, a person will lose consciousness, fall into coma and die. Very high blood glucose seen in diabetes is also harmful, although the immediate consequences are usually less dramatic.
It is less widely known that blood sugar has an important bearing on the aging process. Unfortunately, in addition to being a vital cellular fuel, glucose is also a substance that can cause damage to cells and tissues by randomly reacting with proteins, DNA and other vital molecules. (Scientists call this process glycation). Perhaps the worst consequence of glycation is cross-linking which is the formation of chemical bridges between proteins or other large molecules. A material that undergoes cross-linking usually becomes harder, less elastic and has a tendency to tear or crack. For instance, cross-linking is responsible for hardening of a rubber mat or a garden hose left in the sun. In an aging body, cross-linking causes hardening of arteries, wrinkling of the skin and stiffening of joints. Not surprisingly, diabetics, whose high blood glucose intensifies cross-linking, tend to have more skin damage (as well as vascular and other organ damage) than non-diabetics. However, even mildly high blood sugar promotes the aging process in the long run. This condition, called carbohydarate intolerance (or glucose intolerance) means that one's blood sugar tends to be higher than normal but not high enough to warrant the diagnosis of diabetes. Carbohydrate intolerance is extremely common, affecting up to fifty percent of the population in developed countries. In most carbohydrate intolerant people, fasting blood sugar is normal while blood sugar after meals is higher than it should be.
Research indicates that correcting carbohydrate intolerance is one the most important steps one can take towards slowing down the aging process.
Now, the question is how can one find out whether she has carbohydrate intolerance. An overt diabetes is relatively easy to diagnose. A doctor simply takes your fasting blood glucose to see whether it is elevated. A more sophisticated test called OGGT (oral glucose tolerance test) is needed to diagnose carbohydrate intolerance. First, your fasting blood sugar is measured. Then you are given a meal containing a standard amount of glucose, after which your blood glucose is measured every 30 minutes for 2 or 3 hours. This allows to see how quickly your blood sugar returns to normal after a carbohydrate load. The main risk factors for carbohydrate intolerance are being overweight and age over forty.
Next Article: How to improve carbohydrate tolerance?