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Cooking to Fight Inflammation?

I heard about some toxins called AGEs formed in cooking. Can you tell me what they are and how they form?

Answer (Published 7/12/2007)

AGEs stands for advanced glycation end products, a class of toxins the body absorbs when we consume grilled, fried or broiled meats, cheeses and other foods of animal origin. AGEs give food appetizing tastes and smells but in the body have been linked to inflammation, insulin resistance, diabetes, vascular and kidney disease and Alzheimer's disease.

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Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City found that AGE levels are elevated in healthy people and higher in older people than they are in younger ones. The study divided 172 men and women by age – one group ranged in age from 18 to 45; the other ranged from 60 to 80. The researchers recorded their subjects' body weight, body fat, everything they had eaten for three days and collected blood samples to measure C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation, and for two types of AGEs, carboxymethyllysine (CML) and methylgllyoxal (MG). The blood tests showed that people age 65 and older had AGE levels 35 percent higher than those in the younger group, and that the greater the consumption of foods high in AGEs, the higher the levels of CRP and other markers of inflammation. They also found that in some cases, AGEs levels were very high in some members of the younger group. Here, too, the higher the levels of AGEs, the higher the CRP and other inflammatory markers.

The study leader, Helen Vlassara, M.D., said that excessive intake of fried, broiled and grilled foods can overload the body's natural capacity to remove AGEs. As a result, these toxins accumulate in tissues, eventually helping to create a state of inflammation that leads to disease or early aging. The older you get, the harder it becomes for the body to remove AGEs.

You can reduce your intake of AGEs by steaming or boiling foods or by making stews – the key is to cook at low heat and to maintain the water content of food. The researchers noted that in animal studies, cutting AGEs intake in half without changing the content of the diet increased the lifespan of the animals, compared to those who were fed their usual diet.

There is no routine blood test to measure the AGEs levels in your blood and no treatment to reduce them, so the only way you can guard against excessive AGEs intake is to cook your foods in ways that don't lead to formation of these toxins. The study was published in the April 2007 issue of The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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