If it’s true that beauty is only skin deep, then we’re all beautiful because our skin is very deep indeed. It’s as deep as we are, in a sense, connecting with our innermost organs through a complex network of blood vessels, ducts, and glands. In fact, our skin can be an astonishingly accurate indicator of our overall health, as doctors prior to the advent of blood tests and X-rays were obliged to learn.
Not only is our skin a highly informative organ, but it’s also our largest, covering approximately 20 square feet and weighing about 7 pounds. It’s also one of our more complex organs. It is not simply our body’s shrink wrap. Rather, it’s a highly intricate six-layered affair laced with millions of blood vessels, nerve fibers, muscle cells, connective tissue, hair follicles, oil and sweat glands, and receptors for sensing heat, cold, and pain.
And with this multitude of structures, not surprisingly, comes a multitude of duties. In addition to protecting us from the billions of microscopic invaders that would love access to our innards every day, our skin cools us with its sweat glands, keeps us warm with its rich vascular network, helps in the production of disease-fighting antibodies, and contributes to the making of vitamin D in conjunction with sunlight for the health of our bones.
What Can Go Wrong
Largely because of this wide range of duties, the skin also is vulnerable to a wide range of disorders, says Harvey Arbesman, M.D., clinical assistant professor in the Departments of Dermatology and Social and Preventive Medicine at the University at Buffalo in New York.
Skin Problems can fall prey to eat infection, inflammation, degeneration, congenital abnormalities, growths, lesions, and, of course, pimples and blackheads that all too often blemish the adolescent years. Can these conditions be controlled? Many of them can, through proper hygiene, protection of the skin from the sun, and, yes, proper diet.
Because the skin and the body are, in fact, so intimately related, what’s good nutritionally for the body, in general, tends to be good for the skin in particular,” Dr. Arbesman says. “This means a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, high in fiber, and low in fat.” If that advice is beginning to sound like a broken record, so be it. It’s advice that really can’t be stressed enough.
Dr. Arbesman says. “So many of our major health problems today could be minimized significantly if we’d all just pay more attention to our diets.” That said, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of a healthy diet.
Less Cancer (and Maybe Wrinkles, Too)
Within the cells of your skin- and all your body’s cells, for matter-are highly unstable molecules called free radicals, which are created when cells use oxygen. Their instability is due to a shortage of an electron in their outer shell, a shortage that winds being bad news for neighboring molecules because free radicals are forever seeking to rebalance themselves with an electron theft.
It’s a long and involved molecular story,” says Dr. Arbesman, but what it boils down to is that free radicals can be very harmful to the cells of anything tissue they populate, be it of the heart, the blood vessels, the lungs, or in this case the skin. The elasticity and hence smoothness of the skin can begin to break down under free-radical damage, age spots can form, and there can be increased risks of cancer.”
Fruits and Vegetables to the Rescue
Most fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins (C and beta-carotene) known as antioxidants, which research shows can help neutralize free radicals, thus preventing them from doing harm. Other vitamins and minerals also have been found to blunt the effects of free radicals (vitamin E and the mineral selenium, for example).
Eat Those Fruits and Veggies
Foods rich in antioxidants potential skin-savers should be included in your diet, Dr. Arbesman says. People should try to include at least five servings of vegetables and fruits in their diets a day, particularly citrus fruits which are high in vitamin C, and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, and carrots.
Another advantage to a diet rich in antioxidants is that it may help reduce free radical damage caused by exposure to the sun, Dr. Arbesman adds. This damage includes wrinkles. This doesn’t mean forgoing a high-quality sunblock when outdoors, or not wearing a hat or other protective clothing,” says Dr. Arbesman. However, research does propose that antioxidant vitamins may have a protective effect.
Less Fat for Healthier Skin
While you’re stocking up at the produce counter, you might rethink your purchases in the meat and dairy aisles, Dr. Arbesman says. “We have researched and suggest that diets high in fat may add to risks for certain types of skin cancer.
Why? Again, disorderly conduct from free radicals is suspected of playing a role. There is evidence suggesting that sunlight may produce free radicals at a greater rate when greater amounts of fat are in the system.
Dr. Arbesman says. is called process lipid peroxidation, and what it comes down to, really, is the oxidation of fats within the body in a manner similar to that which, in the external world, turns fats and oils rancid.” Dr. Arbesman suggests limiting fat intake with that unappetizing scenario in mind.
Steer clear of fatty cuts of beef and pork, eschew the deep-fryer, and opt for dairy products sporting nonfat or low-fat labels. Further, this doesn’t mean trying to keep away from fat completely, though, in limited amounts. Thus, the right kinds of fat the monounsaturated type in olive oil, for example, and the fat in fish can actually be fairly healthful for skin problems.
More Fish for Fewer “Scales”
Research shows that diets rich in fish oils may help minimize some of the flaking and itching caused by psoriasis, a skin disorder in which skin cells get produced approximately every three to four days instead of the normal rate of every 28 to 30. We suspect the active components in fish oil are its omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce the inflammation associated with psoriasis,” says Dr. Arbesman.
As encouraging as some of these studies have been, however, the results of others have been less so. Dr. Arbesman says, so it’s clear that individual results can vary. Enjoy the healthful benefits of fish for lowering cholesterol and reducing risks of heart attacks and stroke, however, include more fish.
Considering the other fish in the diet can be a wise move to make, most nutritionists agree. Fish highest in omega-3 fatty acids are cold-water varieties such as salmon, mackerel, bluefin tuna, swordfish, herring, anchovies, sardines, and trout. Flaxseed oil is yet another good omega-3 source.
E-Stands for Enforcer
As a final safeguard for the skin, some people may want to consider paying more attention to their intake of vitamin E, Dr. Arbesman says. In addition to helping make other antioxidants more effective in neutralizing free radicals and hence possibly helping to reduce risks of such degenerative illnesses. Like heart disease, cataracts, arthritis, and cancer-vitamin E have shown in laboratory studies that it can do an impressive job of arresting these molecular misfits even by itself.
Because most good sources of vitamin E (vegetable oils and nuts) tend also to be high in fat. However, upping your intake with the addition of a daily supplement can be a good idea, Dr. Arbesman says. (One good low-fat source of vitamin E is wheat which supplies 39 percent of the RDA for vitamin E in just a 4-cup, 110- calorie serving.)
The natural form of vitamin E, d-alpha germ, tocopherol, taken in doses of between 100 and 400 international units a day, is what Dr. Arbesman recommends. Because vitamin E can thin the blood, however, supplementation may be dangerous for people already taking blood-thinning medications. Before taking supplemental vitamin E, people should always check first with their doctors, he says.
Skin Problems Eczema
People with eczema (clinically known as atopic dermatitis) should be glad to hear that diet, sometimes, can play a role in this agony of itches. Also, future research is finding that outbreaks seem to be connected with the ingestion of definite foods in some people,” Dr. Arbesman says.
Foremost among these are milk and milk products, eggs, peanuts, wheat, and some varieties of fish and nuts, Dr. Arbesman says. Research also suggests that the earlier in life one first experiences eczema, the greater the likelihood that food allergies play a role If you experience outbreaks of eczema that seem to be connected with a particular food, discuss it with your doctor.
Acne and the Innocent Candy Bar
“Eat it today, wear it tomorrow.” That’s been a warning for kids with acne since the advent of the candy bar. But is it valid? In most cases no. Moreover, you have to eat a portion of greasy food with such abandon that you got some of it on your face. That might cause an adverse reaction by clogging the skin’s pores, but otherwise, there’s no good research to show a connection between foods that are consumed and acne breakouts,” says Douglas Kress, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Also, another reason that acne appears is a lousy skincare routine. It is essential for our skin to use natural skincare products. A dietary connection does exist, however, with the 10sacea-a condition sometimes referred to as adult acne (although the conditions are not related) in which blood vessels become dilated in the area of the nose and cheeks. Blemishes resembling pimples can, in fact, appear. “Spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol can exacerbate this condition in some people,” Dr. Kress says.
Healing Diets for Skin Problems
Eat a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat. Mind it, these things are good foods for skin problems, i.e., Broccoli, Carrots, Citrus Fruits, Fish, Kale, Olive Oil, Spinach, Wheat Germ, Winter Squash.