To Your Health
April, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 04)
Nutrition for Healthy Skin
Give Yourself an Inner Facial
By Dr. James Meschino
The skin is the largest organ in the body, weighing approximately 20 pounds. It is prone to various diseases, defects, infections and insults from chemical, physical and ultraviolet light sources. Specific dietary agents and certain supplements are known to enhance the health and appearance of the skin by providing protection against sun damage, improving immune function at the skin level, reducing changes linked to skin-cancer development and providing therapeutic agents that assist in the treatment of many skin conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema and acne.
Along with hair and nails, skin is the fastest growing and most superficial tissue in the body. As such, it has a high demand for nutrients in order to continuously replenish itself with rapidly developing immature skin cells from the layers below. Even a marginal deficiency of nutrients such as vitamin A, the carotenoids, vitamin D, vitamins B1 and B2, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin E, vitamin C or essential fatty acids can result in impaired development of skin cells, resulting in skin that is less smooth, prone to lesions, less elastic and more likely to suffer accelerated aging.
As reported by R. Hoffman, medical director of the Hoffman Center for Holistic Medicine in Manhattan, an inner facial consisting of changing to a healthier diet, better elimination and supplementation with vital skin nutrients, including essential fatty acids, can result in dramatic improvements in skin appearance in three to four months. The evidence is now strong and consistent that maintaining the outer beauty of the skin and effectively treating damaged skin and other skin disorders requires a comprehensive strategy that must include intake of optimal levels of certain vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.
Topical Skin Nutrients
Before examining the relationship between dietary nutrients and skin health, it is important to address the value of incorporating certain nutrients into topical creams and lotions. Recently, there has been much attention given to the use of lotions containing phytoestrogens. A review of this evidence indicates that the use of topically applied estrogen (as well as hormone replacement therapy) and the use of natural progesterone by postmenopausal women may improve the skin's texture and appearance to a significant degree. However, estrogen replacement has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer and influence the risk of other health conditions, which must be factored in to the decision-making process.
In regards to the topical application of phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogens), studies reveal that the transdermal absorption of the soy isoflavones genistein and diadzein is possible from studies that used specific oils (e.g., olive oil) as a transdermal chaperone agent. It appears that with repeated use, these phytoestrogens are captured in the skin, where they may exert a positive effect on skin cell development and texture. At this point, it is too premature to make any definitive statements in this regard and thus, the topical application of phytoestrogens as an intervention for skin health should be regarded as experimental at this time.
Other nutrients, however, are well-established as topical agents that may be considered for use to protect the skin from free-radical damage and improve the health of the skin in various ways. This list includes the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium, as well as other health-promoting and protective nutrients such as zinc oxide, green tea extract, witch hazel, aloe vera and milk thistle, which have all demonstrated impressive outcomes in clinical and experimental studies when used as topical agents.