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Foods For Healthy Skin

Nutrients Which Help The Skin Look Younger And Be Healthier

July 3rd, 2012

Written by Holly Klamer, MS, RD
Edited by , Clinical Nutrition Writer

Skin is our largest organ, and its primary role is to defend the body against bacteria and other pathogens. Skin can also be a cosmetic concern for many people as they age, however. How can we keep our skin looking young? How can we improve our skin's elasticity as we age and prevent wrinkles?

Skin health is also important because skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their life. Skin damage is most commonly caused by the sun and ultraviolet (UV) radiation (as in tanning booths, not just sunlight).

With so much to worry about with the skin, both cosmetically and health-wise, what can you do to help prevent damage? What nutrients can you take to save your skin?

Lutein Isn't Only For Your Eyes

One nutrient is lutein, a pre-cursor to beta carotene (commonly known as vitamin A). A 2009 study from Tufts University suggests that lutein may play an important part in skin health. Lutein is known to promote eye health, and evidence is growing that it also has an important protective role for skin cells as well. Lutein may prevent damage from UV radiation and act as an anti-inflammatory in the skin cells, which may help decrease risk of wrinkles and cancer. Lutein-rich foods include fruits and vegetables like broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables, bell peppers, grapes, citrus fruits, and squash.

Other antioxidants like the vitamins C and E can also help prevent damage to skin cells from UV radiation. Most fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C and foods like wheat germ, nuts, seeds, and dark green leafy vegetables contain significant amounts of vitamin E.

Vitamin "C As In Collagen"

One of the roles vitamin C plays in the body is to build collagen. Collagen is a major part of the two layers of skin, the dermis and epidermis, and it helps keep the skin firm. Aging and environmental pollutants like smoke or excess sun exposure can decrease vitamin C levels in the skin. Vitamin C is transported to the skin from our blood, but it can also be topically applied. High intake of vitamin C is often associated with healthier skin and fewer wrinkles, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.

Another nutrient which may be important for skin health is healthy fat from foods like fish, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. Chia seeds and flaxseeds are particularly high in omega 3 fatty acids, though to absorb the omega 3s from flaxseed they must be ground first. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential, which means we have to get them through our diet because the body cannot make them itself. Not getting enough essential fatty acids (like omega 3s and 6s) can affect skin health. In addition, vitamins A and E are fat-soluble, so consuming foods rich in these vitamins with a fat source can help with absorption.

Vitamin B6 Helps Prevent Dermatitis

A water-soluble vitamin which has been shown to be important for skin health is vitamin B6, which acts as an antioxidant and prevents damage from free radicals. A deficiency of vitamin B6 is associated with dermatitis: inflammation of the skin. However, too much vitamin B6 may cause photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight), which means it can result in skin damage for people who get a lot of sun exposure. Most research suggests that B6 in amounts of up to 200mg is safe for the majority of adults, so staying below this amount will reduce the likelihood of photosensitivity. B6 is found in many foods, including fish, chicken, turkey, chick peas, potatoes, and bananas.

Not all nutrients play a direct role in skin health; some affect other areas of the body which can then affect the skin. Probiotics are known to positively affect gut health, and some research suggests the effects of probiotics also affect the skin. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the large intestine, and they may need to be supplemented in the diet, as the typical Western diet is low in these beneficial bacteria. They can come from supplements, fermented dairy foods like yogurt, and other fermented foods as well. Probiotics may release certain by-products in the body that positively affect the skin. When probiotics counts are low in the colon, other harmful bacteria colonize instead. These bacteria may produce harmful substances that make the skin flaky and dull.

A Healthy Diet Leads To Healthy Skin!

In conclusion, there are many nutrients which affect the skin both directly and indirectly. The skin is a vital organ that protects our body from many harmful things, and keeping it healthy is important not just to look good but to remain healthy.

Antioxidant-rich foods such as those high in vitamins C, E, and lutein may help prevent damage to the skin from UV light. Essential fats are needed to transport the fat-soluble vitamins, and essential fatty acids like omega 3s help the skin maintain integrity. Vitamin B6 can also play a role in preventing skin damage, but too much of vitamin B6 can also be harmful. Research has also shown a possible relationship between probiotics from the colon and their by-products, which may positively affect skin integrity and coloring. Getting enough of all of these nutrients will ensure you are approaching nutrition for skin health positively and doing your part to prevent damage!

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The Skin Cancer Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 July 2012.

Evans JA, Johnson EJ (2009). Something new under the sun: Lutein's role in skin health.
American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, volume 3(5);349-352.

Preedy, VR (2012). Handbook of Diet, Nutrition and the Skin. Wageningen Academic Publishers, Netherlands.

"Micronutrient Research for Optimum Health." Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 July 2012.

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