Use Your HSA to Slow Down Your AGEing Process
Vol. 4, Issue 4
One of the best aspects of having an HSA is that you can control your medical care. If you want to have a medical test or procedure done that is not covered by your health insurance, you pay for it with pre-tax money from your health savings account. One of the processes of aging that scientists have been learning more about in recent years is glycation, and the formation of Advanced Glycation Endproducts, or AGEs. Here's how to reduce this harmful process, and a simple test you can pay for from your HSA to see how you're doing.
What is "Glycation" and what are AGEs?
When we take a piece of bread and put it in the toaster, it slowly turns brown. This is the result of a natural process called the "Maillard reaction", in which sugars react with proteins. It is this process that gives flavor to beer, pizza crust, and roasted coffee.
The same process naturally happens in the human body. (So in a sense, we all slowly "brown" as we age). When a protein in your body is "glycated", it has a sugar molecule attached to it, and can then bond to another protein in your body in a process called "cross-linking". These damaged proteins result in the formation of Advanced Glycation Endproducts.
Exposure to AGEs in the body contributes to inflammation and to a large variety of age-related diseases, including cataracts, joint stiffness, Alzheimer's disease, and cardiovascular diseases. Some AGEs increase the risk of auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and others increase the risk of cancer.
Reduce AGEs in your Food
When experimental mice are fed a low-AGE diet, they have better cardiovascular health, better kidney health, better blood sugar management, and they live longer. AGE formation is increased when foods are cooked at high temperatures, and for longer periods of time. You can significantly reduce AGEs created in food preparation by using boiling, poaching, or stewing rather than frying or grilling.
So one strategy is to simply reduce your consumption of "browned" foods. So for instance, fried shrimp will have way more harmful AGE compounds than boiled shrimp.
How to Reduce AGE Formation in your Body
AGE formation is particularly high in diabetics, due to uncontrolled sugar levels in the body. This is one of the reasons why they suffer from increased rates kidney disease, vision loss, and cardiovascular disease.
Millions of Americans who have not been diagnosed as diabetic still have glucose handling difficulties, typically diagnosed as "metabolic syndrome". It is becoming more and more evident that a diet low in foods that raise blood sugar rapidly (typically the "white" foods like bread, pasta, rice, and sugar) will reduce a person's risk of diabetes or metabolic syndrome. This in turn will also reduce your body's AGE formation.
Supplements You Can Take
Numerous dietary supplements have now been shown to reduce glycation, cross-linking, and AGE formation. Some experts recommend the following supplements, typically 500 mg to 1 gram of each, per day:
- Alpha-lipoic acid
If your health care practitioner recommends supplements for the prevention or treatment of a specific health condition, you can pay for them from your HSA.
A Simple Test
A common blood test that diabetics have done is Glycated Hemoglobin A1c. This measures how much the red blood cells have become glycated over the past one to three months, and is seen as an indicator of average blood sugar levels.
The approximate correlation between HbA1c values and average blood glucose measurements over the previous 4-12 weeks is shown in this table:
Many of our clients take advantage of the access to low-cost lab tests that we make available on our Additional Benefits page. For just a few bucks you can find out where you stand, and pay for it from your HSA.
Stay Healthy, Grow Your HSA
We all obviously want to stay as healthy as we can for as long as we can. This is a picture of my son and me running into the waves in Tulum, Mexico.
He's 5, I'm 45. When he's my age, I will hopefully be 85, still going strong. And if I do stay healthy, my HSA should have well over $1,000,000 in it.
So be proactive - fund your HSA to the max, do what you can to optimize your health, and let your account grow.
P.S. - Next month we'll look at HSA Administrators, and how to make sure you're getting the best value and return on your money.