Life Extension Magazine January 2004
What You Don’t Know About Blood Sugar
By William Faloon
Dr. Roy Walford is a pioneering scientist who demonstrated that maximum life span could be extended when calorie intake is reduced. Dr. Walford’s research showed that caloric restriction lowers fasting glucose by 21% (from 92 to 74 mg/DL) in humans. Even more significant was Dr. Walford’s finding that these calorie-restricted people had a 42% reduction in fasting insulin!
Overweight and obese people have very high insulin levels.55-56 Chronically elevated insulin contributes to a host of degenerative diseases.57-63 Our new hypothesis suggests that lowering fasting glucose levels results in an even greater reduction in fasting insulin. By secreting insulin when blood sugar levels exceed 83 mg/dL, the pancreas is telling us to keep blood glucose far below the high “normal” reference ranges used by blood test labs. While today’s standard fasting glucose reference range extends to 109 mg/dL before flagging a problem, our new hypothesis suggests that fasting glucose over 85 mg/dL is cause for concern.
As you will read in this month’s cover story, “Pathways of Aging,” excess blood glucose induces enormous damage to tissues throughout the body. The question is, what to do about it?
Ways to Lower Blood Glucose
Chromium supplements have been shown to reduce blood glucose significantly.70-74 The dose used in human studies ranges from 200 to 1000 mcg of elemental chromium a day, with best results occurring when 400 mcg or more of chromium is taken daily.
Of interest is an animal study showing that chromium extended mean and maximum life span.75 This study surprised gerontologists, as chromium had not been considered a particularly promising antiaging nutrient. It may have been chromium’s effect in lowering glucose levels that resulted in the significant prolonging of life span demonstrated in this study.
Magnesium, carnitine, alpha lipoic acid, and biotin also can help maintain glycemic control.76-108 A prescription drug for diabetes called metformin significantly lowers glucose levels in most people, but not everyone can take this medication.109-119
Regrettably, many aging people will not be able to maintain optimal blood glucose levels of less than 86 mg/dL. In this situation, protecting the body from the toxic effects of glucose becomes paramount. Glycation is a pathological process that occurs when glucose binds to protein molecules, resulting in the formation of non-functioning structures in the body. Higher blood glucose levels mean more-damaging glycation reactions.
Glycation advances slowly and accompanies every fundamental process of cellular metabolism. Glycation accelerates aging and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, a nutrient called carnosine confers significant protection against glycation processes.120-121
Higher blood glucose also causes increased oxidative stress. Consumption of antioxidants has shown beneficial results in type II diabetics.122-150 Based on our hypothetical definition that blood sugar over 85 mg/dL is too high, antioxidants may be more important to healthy people than previously thought.
A new fat-soluble form of vitamin B1 has demonstrated significant protection against sugar toxicity at the cellular level. In Europe, this vitamin B1 derivative called benfotiamine is prescribed for those suffering from disorders related to sugar toxicity, such as peripheral neuropathy. The good news is that this nutrient has been added to popular supplements already being taken by most Life Extension members. Consumers can thus help protect themselves against the lethal dangers of excess sugar (glucose) without having to swallow more capsules or spend more money.
Why Our Hypothesis May Revolutionize Antiaging Medicine
Sugar levels higher than what cells require to sustain energy metabolism inflict greater damage than lower sugar levels. If moderate to high “normal” fasting glucose levels increase cardiovascular mortality by 40% (as was shown in one large human study), then high normal glucose (and the corresponding excess insulin secretion it provokes) could be one of the leading preventable risk factors for heart attack and stroke.
Because blood sugar levels over 126 mg/dL substantially increase the risk of disease, it might be logical to assume that levels somewhere below 126 also represent an unacceptable danger.
Our new hypothesis indicates that fasting blood glucose of greater than 85 mg/dL is a signal of a metabolic disturbance that may lead to the development of degenerative disease. Most aging people have glucose levels above 85, and this age group also suffers from a plethora of disease states.
We know that type II diabetes markedly accelerates the rate at which humans contract age-related diseases. Type II diabetes is initially characterized by high levels of glucose and insulin in the blood. Today’s reference range for diabetes (fasting glucose of 126 mg/dL or greater on two consecutive occasions) does not adequately reflect the “prediabetic” quandary (fasting glucose over 85 mg/dL) faced by most aging people.