Feeding your skin
It is common knowledge that eating healthily directly contributes to a well-functioning body, but this is also true for the health and appearance of your skin; after all, the skin is one of the body?s largest organs.
It is important then to understand how nutrients can help the skin (and conversely how a poor diet can create and exacerbate skin problems), to be able to make drastic improvements to the look and feel of your skin.
How nutrients work with the skin
Nutrients are the chemical substances found in food and many are essential for life, with an adequate amount of nutrients in the diet needed for various metabolic processes, to provide energy and to build and maintain body organs.
The skin (epidermis and dermis) functions normally when adequate nutrition is provided. Any dietary imbalance in the form of nutritional deficiency, a lack of specific nutrients or excess and toxic components can disturb the balance of the skin and cause skin disorders.
Furthermore, the skin?s demand for nutrients is altered when the skin is put under stress and therefore skin diseases may lead to an imbalance in metabolism and cause nutritional deficiencies. For example, excessive inflammation of the skin is known to increase the requirements of specific nutrients like folic acid and protein. Conversely, an adequate supply of key nutrients can have a profound effect on the skin, for instance the potential for antioxidants to protect against UV damage.
Nutritional deficiencies in the skin
Your body ? and your skin ? require a range of different nutrients to be able to function properly and optimally. If certain nutrients are lacking in your diet, then it can have a direct impact on the health and appearance of the skin. For example:
A lack of essential fatty acids (EFA) is shown to increase skin permeability and the loss of moisture from the skin.
A lack of protein (a form of malnutrition known as Kwashiorkor) can cause swelling under the skin. This has been connected primarily to malnutrition, as well as aflatoxins, free oxygen radicals, leukotriene, zinc deficiency and essential fatty acid deficiency.
Deficiency of vitamin A results in hyperkeratinization (a disorder of cells lining the inside of a hair follicle), which can reduce the number of sebaceous (sebum-producing) glands and block sweat glands. Long-term deficiency of vitamin A can also cause dry skin, generalized hyperpigmentation and sparse, fragile hair. Hair follicle openings blocked by spiny horns is one of the classic signs of vitamin A deficiency, a typical symptom of the skin condition phrynoderma, which in turn has been said to rob the body of Vitamin B, C and E, calories and essential fatty acids.
Vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to skin hyperpigmentation, vitiligo, angular stomatitis and hair changes. Abnormal absorption is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Classic pellagra is a nutritional disease characterized by the combined deficiency of the essential amino acid tryptophan and the vitamin niacin. As well as symptoms of ill-health, it can also cause dryness and swelling in the skin. Other factors, such as mycotoxins, excessive dietary intake of leucine, estrogens and progesterone, chronic alcoholism and various medications might also lead to the development of pellagra.
Scurvy is a deficiency of ascorbic acid, caused by the decreased production and increased fragility of collagen (a protein that stops your skin from ageing). Early signs that can show up in the skin include small red or purple spots, bruising and a thickening of the skin.
Zinc deficiency can cause weeping dermatitis, secondary infection, poor wound healing, excessively fragile hair and sparse or no scalp and pubic hair.
Beneficial nutrients for the skin
As discussed, a wide range of nutrients are required by the skin and the best way to achieve this is by eating a healthy, varied diet of fresh, whole foods. However, some nutrients are particularly beneficial to skin health, including:
Purified vegetable oils and fish oil contain mono hydroxy acids, which can help reduce inflammation in the skin.
Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that help reduce free radical damage of collagen and elastin ? the fibers that support the skin structure, helping to prevent wrinkles and other signs of premature aging.
Beta-carotene (found in carrots) and other carotenoids such as tomatoes help protect against damaging UV rays from the sun.
Selenium is an antioxidant mineral responsible for skin tissue elasticity. It also helps to prevent cell damage from free radicals. Dietary sources of selenium include wheat germ, seafood such as tuna and salmon, garlic, Brazil nuts, eggs, brown rice and whole-wheat bread.
Tea extracts have been found to have greater antioxidant activity than most vegetables and fruits and may be more potent antioxidants than vitamin C, E or carotenoids.
Resveratrol (found in grapes and red wine) is a potent, naturally derived antioxidant that has been studied for its cancer-preventive effects in skin.
If you would like to discuss how to optimise your diet for better skin, The Claudia Louch Natural Skin Clinic can help identify if your body is deficient in key vitamins or minerals, or sensitive to any foods, and create changes in your diet to compensate for this. Click here to make an appointment enquiry.