Looking older: the effect of higher blood sugar levels

People who have high blood sugar levels over an extended period of time look older earlier. This is the finding of research at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in collaboration with Unilever.


The researchers found that people aged between fifty and seventy who had a high level of glucose in their blood consistently looked older than people whose blood sugar level was lower. For every extra 180 grammes of glucose per litre of blood their age, as estimated by others, rose by five months. Diabetics - whose blood sugar level had been raised over a long period of time - looked older than their peers without diabetes. The researchers took into account other factors that could contribute to research candidates appearing older, such as smoking, too much sun, and a too low Body Mass Index.

Extra incentive

Diana van Heemst (LUMC): ‘These results stress how important a well-regulated blood sugar level is for wellbeing and health in this age category. If people realise that this also has an effect on their appearance, it may be an added incentive for them to adopt a more healthy lifestyle.'

More research

David Gunn (R&D Unilever, Colworth, UK): ‘This is the first time that a link has been demonstrated between high blood sugar and facial ageing. We already knew that high blood sugar was bad for the health, but we now also know that it makes people look older than they really are. Although there are some ideas about how glucose might influence facial ageing, we have to do more research to determine just how the two are linked.'

Research design

The research, that was published in the journal AGE, was carried out within the Netherlands Consortium for Healthy Ageing. This consortium's mission is to keep the elderly healthy for longer. As part of the research, the blood sugar levels of 600 Dutch men and women were measured, after which photographs were taken of their faces. Their actual age was compared with their estimated age, based on assessments of the photographs by sixty independent assessors. 


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Last Modified: 05-12-2011