How What You Eat and Drink Affects Your Skin

by Charles Platkin, PhD

How What You and Affects Your

How much does your affect your skin and how you look?
According Leslie Baumann, M.D., professor of dermatology at University of Miami and author of The New York Times best seller The Skin Type Solution (Bantam, 2006), “Your diet plays a crucial role in everything from skin hydration to redness, acne and aging. Even broken blood vessels on the face can be caused by diet.” Most experts agree that a good diet can influence the quality of your skin. “A substantial amount of overall skin is related to diet — probably the same magnitude as with other health states, such as cancer and heart disease, where diet is generally accepted to account for about 30 percent of overall risk,” says Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., nutritional biochemist and author of Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection (Hunter House, 2007).

What can you add to or change in your diet today that will show visible results in your skin?
“The best defense against the free radical damage of oxidation is a diet rich in antioxidant vitamins and minerals (and plenty of water),” says Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., Today show nutritionist and author of Joy Bauer’s Food Cures. Here are a few key diet recommendations:

Green Tea and Red Wine: Wrinkles are caused by a loss of three vital skin structures: collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid (HA). The goal in wrinkle treatment is to increase levels of these three substances, says Baumann. Water, green tea and red wine can help.

Baumann recommends at least 2 to 4 cups of green tea per day. Talbott agrees: “It has a high content of flavonoid/catechins, (which can help to strengthen collagen microstructures in skin) and of theanine — an amino acid associated with relaxation and cortisol control. Too much cortisol can induce disruptions in blood sugar and inflammation.” Red wine has a flavonoid/collagen effect similar to green tea and is known for its relaxation effects and blood-flow promotion, Talbott adds.

Water: Of course you need to drink water to prevent dehydration. “However, as far as skin is concerned, it is not how much water you drink but how well your skin holds onto the water and keeps it from evaporating. Skin needs adequate levels of fatty acids, ceramides [a type of fat] and cholesterol to hold onto water. This is why vegans and people on low-cholesterol diets or cholesterol-lowering drugs have dry skin. Any liquid you drink can provide skin hydration; however, water consumption should be increased when drinking caffeine and alcohol, both of which can dehydrate you,” says Baumann.

Omega-3s: These healthy fats seem to be the miracle food of the decade and are probably among the more promising nutrients in our diet. “Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain cell membranes so that they are effective barriers — allowing water and nutrients in and keeping toxins out. Omega-3s also seem to protect skin against sun damage. In a study of skin cancer, people who ate diets rich in fish oils and other omega-3 fats had a 29 percent lower risk of squamous cell cancer than those who got very little omega-3 fats from food,” says Bauer. They are also anti-inflammatory, so they help reduce acne and facial redness. “Good food sources include oily fish, sardines, Pacific oysters, lake trout, flaxseeds, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs.” Baumann recommends that we eat salmon at least three times a week for these effects.

Grains: Eat more whole-grain carbs (as opposed to refined carbs), which don’t cause the blood sugar spikes that lead to the glycation [sugar breaking down] of skin proteins that accelerates wrinkling, says Talbott.

Alpha Lipoic Acid: According to Baumann, this was originally thought to be an antioxidant that helps with skin, but that is now questioned by a study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Therefore, she does not recommend it as a supplement.

Vitamin C: It’s involved in collagen production and protects cells from free radical damage. “Scientific studies found that when lab animals ate vitamin C-fortified food, their skin was better able to fight off oxidative damage,”says Bauer. Baumann adds that getting the proper amount of vitamin C in your diet can help reverse wrinkles. Good sources include peppers (red/green/yellow), oranges, strawberries, lemons and broccoli.

Vitamin E: This helps protect cell membranes and guards against UV radiation damage. “Some research suggests that vitamin E may work in combination with vitamin C to provide an extra boost of anti-aging skin protection. I recommend eating wheat germ, avocado, fortified cereals, nuts and seeds,” says Bauer.

Beta Carotene: Another antioxidant critical for skin health is beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. “Beta carotene/vitamin A is involved in the growth and repair of skin tissue and may protect against sun damage. In extremely high doses, straight vitamin A from supplements can be toxic, but ample beta carotene from foods like sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, mangoes and apricots is entirely safe and great for your skin,” says Bauer.

Selenium: “This helps safeguard the skin from sun damage and delays aging by protecting skin quality and elasticity. Dietary selenium has even been shown to help prevent some skin cancers in animals,” says Bauer. Food sources include Brazil nuts, tuna (canned light in water), crab and wheat germ.

Coenzyme Q10: According to Baumann, research at the University of Miami has demonstrated a positive result from using coenzyme Q10 supplements to treat skin cancers. She recommends 200 milligrams every morning because it has a caffeine-like effect. Coenzyme Q10 is preventative, so its effects are cumulative and not immediate. If you are on a cholesterol-lowering statin drug, it is imperative that you take coenzyme Q10 supplements because statins lower your level of coenzyme Q10, she adds.

Glucosamine: Available as a dietary supplement, it increases hyaluronic acid levels, which helps skin hold onto water and gives it plumpness, says Baumann. Results can be seen in four to six weeks. The enzymes in the skin that perform a variety of functions need water to work. Without water, skin will age faster and will be more likely to itch and get red.

What are the foods that actually damage your skin?
Sugar: Sugar is the most detrimental to skin. It increases acne and may speed aging by causing glycation — the result of sugar breaking down and bonding with protein molecules, which reduces the elasticity of the collagen and leads to tougher, wrinkled skin, says Baumann. According to Talbott, “Sugar is very bad for the same reason that poorly controlled diabetics have more heart disease and blood vessel damage (due to glycation of these tissues). The same effects can occur to the skin due to excessive blood sugar fluctuations.” And a recent study shows that refined sugary foods that promote inflammation may also negatively affect the skin, as can other inflammatories such as white flour products, saturated fat and trans fat, says Bauer.

Spicy Foods: If you are prone to facial flushing, hot (temperature) or spicy foods will increase flushing, leading to dilated visible blood vessels on the face.

Caffeine: It can dehydrate you, but it also has an anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effect. It is the most popular ingredient in cellulite creams and is now a hot new ingredient in many skin-care products, adds Baumann.

Alcohol: Red wine has two substances that actually prevent aging — grape seed extract and resveratrol. However, too much alcohol leads to free radicals, which age the skin, says Baumann.

Chocolate and Greasy Foods: Most of the research says that chocolate doesn’t specifically affect your skin; however, foods that are high in saturated and trans fats have been shown to do so. Plus, chocolate has sugar, which has also been shown to affect your skin.

Stress: “This can increase oil production in the skin (via cortisol overexposure) — leading to clogged pores and an environment suitable for bacteria overgrowth. In addition, cortisol overexposure can increase inflammation, leading to greater redness of acne eruptions,” says Talbott.

What foods are helpful to actually apply to your skin, and why?
According to Baumann, “Many citrus fruits are used to exfoliate the skin because they fall into the alpha hydroxy acid family. Milk, which contains lactic acid, an ingredient still popular in skin care today, has been used topically since Cleopatra’s day to remove dark spots and fine wrinkles. Soy, when applied topically, can have estrogenic effects that help keep postmenopausal skin from losing collagen and wrinkling. Cucumbers have long been known to be anti-inflammatory when applied topically (usually to swollen eyelids). Chamomile is also a popular anti-inflammatory (but not for those allergic to ragweed). Soaking chamomile tea bags in cool water seems to be the most popular method of application.”

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