What negative effects does sugar have on your hair, skin and nails?

What negative effects does sugar have on your hair, skin and nails? You probably already know what effect it has on your weight, and unfortunately the news on your hair, skin and nails is not much better. To explain many of the effects, we need to take a few steps back and review what happens when we ingest sugar, be it from a piece of cake or a fresh fruit smoothie. When we digest these, the sugars make their way into our intestines where they are broken down by enzymes into glucose. Glucose is then released into the bloodstream where it is circulated to the cells in our tissues and organs, including our skin, where it is converted into energy. But in order to enter the cells to provide them their energy, glucose needs help. This help comes from a hormone you have probably heard of before – insulin – which is produced in your pancreas. You have probably heard of insulin as it relates to diabetes and it is worth a brief discussion here. If you are type 1 diabetic, your pancreas can no longer produce insulin and glucose remains in your bloodstream leading to uncontrollable high blood sugar levels in the absence of injected insulin. Without insulin, your body will break down its muscle and fat, the bloodstream becomes acidic and the body severely dehydrated resulting in death. On the other hand, if you are not a type 1 diabetic but have continuously high blood glucose levels over time, this can lead to hardening of your blood vessels (atherosclerosis) and eventually to a myriad of severe chronic diseases (kidney, stroke, heart and others). Your pancreas will be overworked and produce so much insulin that your cells begin to build up a resistance to it. The glucose therefore stays in the bloodstream leading to elevated levels and eventually type 2 diabetes.

Now one of the hallmark symptoms of diabetes is an increased need for urination and an increased thirst. Both point to your body being dehydrated, which means your skin will be too, and likely itchy and flaky.

But that glucose has another evil trick up its sleeve. It can bond to the amino acids present in collagen and elastin and basically render them irreparable. And these are the proteins supporting your healthy- looking skin. The process is known as glycation, and these glucose-protein complexes are known as advanced glycation end products or AGE’s. And when your skin has more AGE’s, skin problems such as deeper wrinkling, yellowing, browning and poor elasticity can develop. The ingredients in our supplements, particularly vitamin C, vitamin E and hyaluronic acid may help combat these sugar induced skin problems.

The AGE’s themselves have an evil trick up their sleeve as well. If you were asked if you preferred to have your steak dinner boiled rather than grilled, you’d likely say grilled without batting an eye. Why? Because it will taste better! It will have all those lovely crunchy bits on the outside and pinky tender meat on the inside.  It just so happens those great tasting black/brown chunky bits are also a source of AGE’s and form through a process called the Maillard reaction which occurs when sugars and proteins are cooked together at high temperature. It increases the savoriness and adds flavour to your food.  AGE’s produced in this manner were once thought to be of no significance, but now there is evidence clearly indicating they can eventually find their way throughout your body to your skin. We are not saying stop cooking at high temperatures but do pay attention to processed foods because they can be a source of AGE’s (especially those with added sugar). There are some foods we can eat, however, that can help prevent AGE formation. These are spices such as cloves, cinnamon, allspice and anise, while the use of acidic marinades (eg. vinegars, lemon juice) before cooking can also help prevent AGE formation.

But that’s not all. Insulin is not an innocent bystander in all this either. Increased insulin levels make androgen hormones more active, resulting in an increase in sebum production and growth rate of skin cells which are key contributors to acne development.

What negative effects does sugar have on my hair? It again relates to that insulin/androgen relationship we just mentioned. Androgens play a large role in hair growth, and an upregulation can alter hair follicle health leading to hair loss on the scalp or promote growth on the face. Furthermore, as hair is largely composed of protein, AGE’s can also factor in. In fact, they have been shown to be a key contributor to reduced hair strength.

Your nails will also be affected by a high sugar diet. They may take on a yellowish color as a result of high blood glucose levels, and the upregulation of androgen as a result of all the insulin the body is producing will slow their growth. Furthermore, sugars may also deplete nutrients from other foods that have been consumed or stored in our body in order to effectively convert their calories to energy. In doing so it may limit our body’s ability to absorb all of the minerals and vitamins that are necessary to prevent our nails and hair from getting brittle and dry.

Take home Message

What negative effects does sugar have on your hair, skin and nails? It starts by elevating your blood glucose levels to the point where AGE’s can cause irreparable damage to your skin in the form of premature ageing, extensive wrinkling, poor elasticity and yellowing and browning.  The extra insulin produced in response to the high glucose levels can boost sebum production potentially leading to acne. Androgen levels will follow suit and alter follicle health leading to hair loss. And if you are already a diabetic, these issues will be particularly challenging and therefore it will be even more important to keep your blood glucose levels in check with a proper diet to maintain healthy skin, hair and nails.

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