Filling Up & Looking Good: Food for the Skin

Dr. Geoffrey Harris, MD

Every year, millions of dollars are spent on skin care products in that eternal quest for a magical “fountain of youth.” The real secret? Whole foods.

Many of us don’t think about the connection between nutrition and skin care, but it matters just as much – if not more – as all those lotions and potions we use to keep ourselves looking younger.

There is a great deal of research about antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids and their benefit to the skin. In 2001, more than 400 participants in the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS) “Food Habits in Later Life” had their diet and skin evaluated. The study found a lower amount of sun damage, wrinkling, and skin aging in the participants who had a high intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and olive oil.

We have long known the benefits of vitamin E and vitamin C as antioxidants, but there is a larger picture. Recent research has shown that phytonutrients like carotenoids (e.g. beta-carotene), anthocyanins, sulfuranes, flavonoids, and isoflavones from fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and soy work together with vitamin C and E to prevent skin damage and aging. These nutrients, when they work together, have been shown to improve collagen, which helps improve wrinkles and skin elasticity, reduce sun damage and redness, and even lower the risk of skin cancer.

And the best way to get these nutrients? Through whole foods, where the multiple nutrients exist in combination, and in their natural forms. For example, a few foods known to contain high antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds include beets, leafy greens, blueberries, turmeric, ginger, and citrus. Supplements that are derived from whole foods can also provide the beneficial mix, but in no way should they be an alternative to eating whole foods.

The other nutrient to discuss in skin health is omega-3 fatty acids. Typically we think of fish oil when we think of omega-3, but there are other sources of omega-3 beyond fish, such as flax, walnuts, and algae. The benefit of omega-3 fatty acids in the skin seems to be their anti-inflammatory properties. Acne, psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea are all inflammatory processes of the skin in which the immune system is over-active. This over-activity of the immune system results in inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect and bring balance to the immune system.

While applying a daily SPF moisturizer is a must and fancy skin creams are great for some people, feeding your skin from the inside out really needs to be a part of your daily regimen if you’re hoping to have beautiful healthy skin.

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