Grilling up Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) : How These Dangerous Chemicals Affect You

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Advanced glycation end products caused from grillingIt has been widely accepted that grilling and baking are the healthiest options when preparing food, but emerging research may prove otherwise. Grilling and baking may limit the fats used in cooking, but they could increase potentially harmful byproducts such as advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that could damage the body and worsen Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) and other health conditions.

Research is now suggesting that lower temperatures, moist heat, and shorter cooking times make for a healthier approach to cooking. Grilling and baking use dry heat and high temperatures, and as a result, they contain higher levels of advanced glycation end products. AGEs are naturally occurring byproducts when food is metabolized within the body. However, consuming overly high levels of AGEs have been linked to increased oxidant stress and inflammation. These, in turn, lead to many other health problems.

Advanced Glycation End Products and Your Health

Increased oxidation and inflammation can lead to a greater risk for several chronic conditions that affect the heart, kidneys, brain, and the aging process in general. One of the body’s ways of protecting against inflammation is through cortisol, an anti-inflammatory agent. High cortisol can result in reduced insulin sensitivity, and this is one of the main stressors that affects the body in adrenal fatigue. Since one of the causes of AFS is chronic or severe infection that gives rise to inflammation response, increased consumption of AGEs may continue to exacerbate this condition.

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are naturally occurring in the body. However, AGEs tend to build up very slowly in the system and increase as you age. Research identifies older people as having higher levels of AGEs than their younger counterparts. People with diabetes and kidney conditions also tend to have higher levels of AGEs due to increased blood sugar levels and reduced ability to excrete excess through urine. Smokers also show increased levels of AGEs.

Diet and AGEs

Although dietary sources cannot be counted as the only factor affecting AGE formation, the surplus is usually a result of food intake. Food from an animal source, such as meat or dairy products, is the usual culprit when it comes to high levels of AGEs. Studies show that foods that are high in protein and fat contain the largest amounts of AGEs. The foods ranked highest in AGEs are beef and cheese. Other items on the list are chicken/poultry, pork, fish, and eggs, in order of most to least AGE content. Oils and nuts ranked lower in regards to AGE production than butter, margarine, mayonnaise, and cream cheese. Cheese, which is already high on the list for foods high in AGEs, showed an ever greater increase when aged. Cheese low in fat had fewer AGEs.

What foods have advanced glycation end productsCarbohydrate rich food, as opposed to food rich in protein and fat, has been shown to contribute to fewer AGEs. However, when carbohydrate rich food is processed by means of dry heat, such as in the case of a potato becoming a potato chip, it tends to carry more AGEs because fat is used in the preparation. Foods that ranked lowest in AGEs include fruits, vegetables, legumes and beans, whole grains, breads, and milk.

As mentioned above, food preparation is key in the formation of AGEs. Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are produced when food is prepped with a high temperature. When high heat is used to cook the food, amino acids meet with sugar. This chemical reaction is what’s known as the Maillard reaction, or simply, the browning of food. This chemical reaction can be seen when toast is actually toasted and food on the grill has slightly burned edges.
This research is only now coming to light because it was once believed that most of these AGEs were not absorbed into the body. However, it appears that as much as one-tenth, or ten percent, is actually absorbed. This could be especially concerning if a person’s diet contains primarily animal-sourced products that are prepared by means of grilling or baking.

The Role of AGE’s and Healthy Living

Increased AGE consumption has shown to increase inflammation in the body. Inflammation is determined by higher levels of CRP (c-reactive protein), fibrinogen, and TNFalpha (tumor necrosis fibrinogen factor alpha) in the blood. In one study, participants who did not consume as many AGEs had a drop in these markers. Research among animals show that chronic illness can be delayed if AGEs are restricted by means of diet, and restricting AGEs can even have an anti-aging effect. Research shows that when healthy humans consume AGEs, they experience weight gain, insulin resistance, inflammation, and other conditions.


Eating foods rich in AGEs can increase oxidation or oxidative stress. As a result, genes are damaged (which begins the cancer process), and this disrupts the body’s ability to destroy abnormal cells and create cells in general. Oxidative stress also increases chronic low-grade inflammation in the body, which may influence cancer risk.


Chronic, low-grade inflammation is a typical state of people with diabetes, so the link between increased dietary AGE consumption and inflammation is especially crucial here. Increased AGEs could be correlated to a peripheral nerve disorder and eye complications commonplace with diabetes. In one study, when the type of cooking preparation was modified, the amount of AGE consumption decreased 50 percent. This number is significant especially because the food wasn’t changed, only the cooking method. After this study was completed, participants found their oxidative stress, inflammation blood markers, plasma insulin, and insulin resistance all decreased by 30 percent in just four months.

Heart Condition

Advanced glycation end products causes symptomsResearch has shown increased consumption of AGEs correlated with an increased risk of heart disease and decreased vessel function among people with diabetes. Changes in LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol caused by AGEs may lead to increased plaque and deposits in blood vessels, as well as hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).

Kidney Problems

Decreased kidney function was found among older adults who had higher levels of AGEs in their blood. In one study, kidney function was improved when older and overweight adults were put on a diet where AGE consumption was limited.

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

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