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The #1 Reason You Look Older and How to Reverse It

Turn back the clock by making these simple changes.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Sorry, we have to be honest. You're looking older than your years. And it's because you've fallen into a common pattern almost all of us have, multiple times a day, without even realizing it. The good news: You can turn back the clock by making some simple changes you won't even miss. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

The #1 Cause

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"Findings from research studies suggest that a diet containing lots of sugar or other refined carbohydrates can accelerate aging," says the American Academy of Dermatology. 

"Added sugar is the number one most significant health threat in America," says David Zinczenko, best-selling author of Zero Sugar Diet. "The more added sugar that sneaks its way into your diet, the less healthy food you'll eat the rest of the day. And the faster you will age."

Eating too much sugar can prematurely age your body by increasing your risk of obesity and associated health problems like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It can also directly age your skin. Here's how.

2

How Sugar Ages You

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When you eat excessive amounts of sugar, it damages collagen and elastin, the two proteins in skin that keep it looking firm, plump, and young. Once consumed, sugar creates advanced glycation end products (or AGEs), which binds to collagen and elastin and actually prevent the body from repairing them. Spoiler alert: Wrinkles, slackness and sallow skin.

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3

Sugar Ages You to the Bone, And Beyond

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A study at the University of California—San Francisco found that people who consumed more sugar-sweetened drinks, such as soda, had shorter telomeres, the part of our cells that hold DNA. Telomeres start out long and get shorter as they age. When they get too short, they die. "Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence metabolic disease development through accelerated cell aging," wrote the study's authors. 

Sugar seems to literally age you to the bone. A study published last year in PLOS Medicine—spanning more than two decades and involving nearly 72,000 women—found that those over age 60 who drank two or more sugar-sweetened beverages daily were 32 percent more likely to become frail than those who drank none.

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4

How to Reverse the Process

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Cutting back on sugar-sweetened drinks and processed foods high in added sugar is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. It can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and dementia. (Your chances of developing all three increase with age.) And your skin can only benefit.

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5

Sugar May Lurk in Unexpected Places

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Even if you reduce simple carbs, sugary sodas, juices and sweets, you might still be consuming more added sugar than you realize. Stay aware of how much added sugar is in the products you buy by checking Nutrition Facts labels. Surprising amounts can lurk in unexpected places, like wheat bread, pasta sauce, and seemingly "healthy" foods like fat-free yogurt. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.