AGEs: what are they and how do they affect our health?

Advanced Glycation End Products, or AGEs, are toxic end products that arise when proteins (or fats) sacrifice. There are clear indications that a large amount of AGEs has harmful effects on our health. Which factors influence the formation of AGEs, what can they cause in our body and what can we do to limit this as much as possible?

What are AGEs?

AGEs is an abbreviation for Advanced Glycation End Products. This term was devised by scientist Dr. Helen Vlassara, who has been researching this for years (1). AGEs are complex compounds between sugars and proteins. They are end products of a chemical reaction between sugars and amino acids. This reaction occurs during the heating of foodstuffs (also at low temperatures) and is called the Maillard reaction (2,3). The proteins are thereby saccharified and irreparably damaged. These sugar-protein compounds ensure a substantial formation of free radicals (harmful substances that can damage cells and DNA). Greases can also be sugared, resulting in the same harmful effects. In that case, the end products are called Advanced Lipoxation End Products (ALEs) (4).

AGEs-rich diet

AGEs naturally occur in our diet. They are almost everywhere, but meat, fish, dairy and nuts contain the highest concentrations of AGEs (4). A certain amount of AGEs is not dangerous, this can easily break down a healthy body. AGEs arise even in our own body, as a by-product of metabolism (4). But long-term research by Helen Vlassara has shown that a large amount of AGEs is harmful to our health and is associated with a variety of health problems and diseases (1). In 2014 she published a book on this subject, entitled ‘the Anti-AGE diet’.

The size for AGEs

The amount of AGEs in a food is expressed in KE (kilo units). The Vlassara study showed that our body can break 8,000 KE per day without problems (4). Anything above it can lead to health problems. For comparison: a banana contains 9 KE AGEs per 100 grams, a pizza point contains over 8,000 KE and a double cheeseburger no less than 18,000 KE AGEs! (4, 5)

Formation of AGEs

There are factors that significantly increase the number of AGEs in our diet. This has to do with the way of editing and preparing. For example, AGEs are deliberately formed in foods to make them more attractive and tasty. They provide the smell, taste and also the appearance of (prepared) food. Think of the brown crust of bread, the crunchiness of cookies, the crispy layer of chips and fries, or the brown edges of roasted meat (4, 6).