Linking blood sugar levels with youthful looks

Long term exposure to high levels of glucose causes people to look older than they really are, new research suggests.

The higher the levels, the older we look

New research from Unilever R&D and Leiden University Medical Center has uncovered a new side-effect of high blood glucose (sugar) levels. The study shows a relationship between a person’s blood glucose level and their perceived facial age. The higher the concentration of blood sugar, the older they appear to look.

Subjects tested & photographed

The team assessed the blood glucose levels of 670 50-70 year-olds. The subjects were categorised into four groups according to their blood glucose level – one of the groups was made up entirely of confirmed diabetics – and 60 independent assessors then examined their photographs to give a value for perceived age.

Incremental increase

The study found that for every 1mmol/litre increase in blood glucose levels, perceived facial age increases by five months. It also showed that diabetics – who suffer long-term exposure to high levels – look older than non-diabetics. These results remain even after taking into account known influencing factors such as smoking and sun exposure.

Study is first of its kind

David Gunn, a senior Unilever scientist, explains: "While there’s extensive research showing that high blood sugar levels are bad for health, this is the first time that the link with facial ageing has been made. There are known routes through which high glucose could influence facial ageing, but we need further research to identify the true underlying cause.”

Increased motivation?

“The results from this study reinforce how important regulation of blood glucose levels is for well-being and health in advanced middle age,” says Diana van Heemst, associate professor at the Leiden University Medical Center. “The associated benefit of looking younger might provide an extra motivation to bring about healthy lifestyle changes in 50–70 year olds.”

Further information

This study – published in the Journal of the American Aging Association (AGE) – was conducted as part of the Netherlands Consortium for Healthy Ageing initiative which aims to understand how health can be preserved as individuals age.

The research paper is available at http://bit.ly/t0GO9w(Link opens in a new window).