Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Address skin health with good nutrition

Ever wonder how our diet affects our skin?  We know that our diet affects our general health.  You, are, after all, what you eat, right?  


Optimal nutritional health is certainly associated with optimal overall health.  When it comes to our skin – the body’s largest organ – it, too, is affected by our nutritional health.   As our natural barrier between our internal and external environments, maintaining good  skin health is imperative for total body wellness.


We know certain skin disorders have been directly linked with deficiencies in specific nutrients.  For instance, scurvy results from a deficiency in vitamin C, leading to skin and mouth sores and discolored skin.  A deficiency in biotin (a B-vitamin) can lead to skin rashes and seborrheic dermatitis. Niacin (a B-vitamin) deficiency can lead to dermatitis and the condition called pellagra.  And, of course, individuals who are undernourished – either through conditions like anorexia nervosa or impoverished individuals with lack of access to food – show skin changes ranging from dry skin and reduced skin elasticity to rashes, hyperpigmentation, acne and more.  Being overnourished and overweight or obese can also cause skin problems such as acanthosis nigricans (pigmentation & texture changes). Other skin ailments occur from various nutrient deficiencies, as well.  What’s more, is often individuals suffer from food sensitivities that present as skin ailments.


One might be inclined to assume that taking supplements would benefit the skin.  For, if some is good, more must be better, right?  However, aside from a balanced diet, there is insufficient and conflicting evidence as to whether supplementation of certain nutrients like vitamin C, B vitamins and others actually leads to improved skin health.  Some research has found mild treatment effects for specific conditions with supplementation of key nutrients. But, other research finds that oversupplementation of certain nutrients can actually lead to health problems.  For example, just because vitamin C prevents scurvy, taking a vitamin C supplement will not necessarily improve your skin under normal circumstances.  And, for those undergoing treatment for cancer, vitamin C supplementation may actually be dangerous.


So what then, you wonder, is the key to beautiful skin?  Instead of seeking supplements to improve your health, we need to focus on total health and nourishing our bodies with nutritious, whole foods.  The goal is to obtain the nutrients we know are important to maintaining good skin integrity naturally and in food form, in order to do our best to have healthy skin.  Traditionally, Western medicine has never placed enough emphasis on how our diet affects our overall health.  The conventional approach in our society to clear up ailments like skin problems is to treat it with medicine and/or supplements. 


However, in our fast food nation, we have endless ailments that in part lie with how we are nourishing our bodies.  We are hugely a society of malnutrition, despite the fact that most individuals in our nation are overweight or obese.


So, to put your best skin forward, there are a number of things you can do with your diet.  Achieving healthy weight is first and foremost – via a balanced diet.  Next, reduce ingested toxins and chemical foods and leave your body better able to eliminate what toxins and waste products we do have within us.  Consume less processed foods.  Eat more whole and natural foods and beverages to leave our bodies the most healthful.  


Water, of course, enables our body to digest and process food, helping to eliminate toxins and keep cells hydrated.  Without at least 8 cups of fluid (ideally water or tea) daily, you run the risk of dehydration and compromised skin health.


Consume a wide array of whole fruits and vegetables daily.  These plant foods provide the phytonutrients like antioxidants to fight free radicals that lead to premature skin aging and cell damage.  Research has shown dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, tomatoes and plant foods with high levels of beta carotene (i.e. carrots, orange squashes, cantaloupe and others) to be especially powerful in protecting skin integrity.


Other plant foods shown to have positive effects on skin integrity include nuts and seeds.  Vitamin E, selenium, zinc and healthy fatty acids can be found in a variety of nuts and seeds. 


It is essential to achieve a good balance of fatty acids in your diet to achieve healthy skin. Inflammation contributes to many skin ailments like rosacea, psoriasis and eczema.  Omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in fighting inflammation.  If one’s diet is deficient in these essential fatty acids (and too high in omega-6 fatty acids and/or omega-9 fatty acids), the body’s ability to fight inflammation is compromised.  Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include cold water fish like salmon and tuna, in addition to walnuts, canola oil and flaxseed.


Examples do not stop there.  Everything from tea and legumes to probiotics and garlic have been studied for their contributions to skin health.


You should also consider including foods that benefit your skin from the inside and out.  Examples include avocados, pomegranates and tea.  Face masks, creams and soothing compresses often contain these ingredients.  And, besides tasting great, these foods also contain antioxidants (plus avocados contain healthy fats) that are so good for your skin – internally or topically!


So evaluate your current diet.  Is it skin friendly?  With warm weather setting in, it is a great time to put our best skin forward.

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