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Seven Skin-Friendly Food Tips
Select foods help keep skin smooth and supple while deflecting sun-driven damage

08/17/2017 By Craig Weatherby with Michelle Lee

Concerned about keeping your youthful glow?

As we age, our skin becomes thinner, loses fat, and no longer looks as plump and smooth.

Adding insult to injury, veins become more visible, and it takes longer to heal from bumps and bruises.

Finally, sun exposure promotes wrinkles, age spots and dryness, all of which leave you looking less youthful.

Fortunately — like the rest of your body — your skin responds to being well fed!

Let's take a closer look at food choices that can help you look your best.

#1: Fight dryness and sun damage with fish fats
The outermost layer of skin, the epidermis, becomes thinner with age.

So it gets harder for the skin to retain moisture, leading to dry, flaky, and wrinkled skin.

The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon and other fatty, wild-caught fish help the epidermis hold moisture for smoother, softer skin.

In addition, omega-3s appear to exert anti-inflammatory effects that reduce the damage done to skin cells by UV sunrays, and thereby discourage the development of cancerous cells.

Human clinical research and animal experiments alike show that omega-3s help protect against sunburn and against skin damage caused by UV sunrays.

As far back as the mid-1990s, researchers reported that omega-3 fish oil could help protect against sunburn. As one British team wrote, “The sunburn response is markedly reduced by dietary fish oil rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” (Rhodes LE et al. 1995)

After British researchers reviewed the evidence, they came to a positive conclusion about fish fats: “Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are promising candidates, showing potential to protect the skin from UVR injury through a range of mechanisms.” (Pilkington SM et al. 2011)

Likewise, French researchers linked higher estimated intakes of plant- and seafood-source omega-3s to reduced skin aging (Latreille J et al. 2013).

Clinical research indicates that seafood-source omega-3s (DHA and EPA) may help prevent sun damage and reduce the risk for non-melanoma skin cancers ... see Fish Oil Found to Deflect Sun Damage, Omega-3s May Help Curb Skin CancerFish Fats Called Credible Foes of Skin Aging and Skin Cancer, and Fish Fat Curbs Skin and Oral Cancers.

Fish species that abound in omega-3s include wild salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, sablefish, herring, and anchovies. This also applies to canned examples of these fish.

Among fatty fish, wild salmon may be especially beneficial, thanks to the carotenoid antioxidant called astaxanthin that gives salmon their red-orange hue.

Last month, Japanese researchers published the encouraging results of a 16-week, placebo-controlled clinical trial testing high doses of supplemental astaxanthin (12mg per day) in 65 women.

As they wrote, "Wrinkle parameters and skin moisture content significantly worsened in the placebo group after 16 weeks. However, significant changes did not occur in the astaxanthin groups ... our study suggests that long-term prophylactic astaxanthin supplementation may inhibit age-related skin deterioration." (Tominaga K et al. 2017)

We should note that wild salmon contains far smaller amounts of astaxanthin, but long-term consumption of the only ample food source of this antioxidant certainly can't hurt.

You can get comparably high doses from astaxanthin supplements, and smaller but still substantial amounts from krill oil supplements.

#2: Discourage skin damage with colorful veggies
Your skin is constantly undermined by free radicals generated by exposure to sunlight, air pollutants, and chemicals.

These unstable oxygen molecules damage skin cells and stimulate inflammation, which generates even more free radicals and promotes premature aging of the skin.

And your body's ability to produce its own antioxidants — which neutralize free radicals — can diminish with age.

Luckily, you can boost your body's "antioxidant capacity" through a healthy diet full of vibrant, colorful fruits and vegetables.

The authors of a recent evidence review noted that a wide variety of food-borne antioxidants protect skin against damage from UV sunrays (Pandel R et al. 2013):

  • Genistein – soy foods
  • Coenzyme Q – fish, beef, poultry
  • Flavonoids – colorful fruits and vegetables
  • Lycopene – tomato products and watermelon
  • Glutathione* – garlic, cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts)
  • Selenium – wild seafood, garlic, grass-fed beef, poultry, eggs

*Glutathione isn't found in foods, but body levels can be raised by eating sulfurous vegetables such as these.

What are your best sources of antioxidants?

Go for rich color — many of the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables are also powerfully healthful pigments.

For more on this topic, see Edible Sunscreen? Colorful Foods Seen to Deter Sun Damage.

#3: Nuts, seeds, and avocado
Nuts provide vitamin E, which is essential for healthy skin and can reduce sun damage and wrinkling.

Vitamin E also supports cellular regeneration, which is crucial in allowing the skin to constantly heal and repair itself.

There’s ample and growing evidence that America’s excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils and plant foods undermines many aspects of health.

Most nuts and seeds — except walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds — contain very few omega-3s and far more omega-6 fats.

And the excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids that typifies the standard American diet speeds aging of the skin by promoting inflammation. (See Omega-3/6 Balance: Hidden Health Risk.)

That said, the amounts of omega-6 fats one would get from moderate nut and seed consumption don’t present much risk. Most Americans get most of their omega-6 fats from the cheap vegetable oils: corn, soy, cottonseed, safflower, and sunflower (except hi-oleic sunflower oil).

Like nuts, avocados are very rich in vitamin E and antioxidants, which keep the skin moist and prevent premature aging.

One evidence review found that both dietary avocado and avocado face masks can boost overall skin health.

The authors concluded that the high levels of carotenoid antioxidants — lutein and zeaxanthin — in avocados protects against UV damage and help skin heal more quickly.

#4 Water — essential but overlooked
Okay, water isn't a food, but dehydration can sneak up and age your appearance.

The body prioritizes water for internal organs, so lack of water will leave your skin dry, tight, flaky, and more prone to wrinkling.

It’s also helpful to add water to your skin from the outside in, and applying moisturizer right after a bath or shower can help.

The old advice to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day turns out to have no backing from scientific evidence.

Instead, drink as needed to avoid thirst, and err on the side of drinking more water than you may think you need.

It’s also the case that watery beverages like coffee and tea count toward your daily water intake. Don’t rely on sugary drinks, which promote inflammation that can accelerate skin and overall aging.

#5: Boost collagen and skin elasticity with soy
Preliminary research suggests that a diet rich in the antioxidant soybean compounds called isoflavones may improve skin quality ... particularly in post-menopausal women.

A recent clinical trial in 30 such women examined their skin before and after they'd consumed a soy concentrate rich in isoflavones for six months.

At the end of the study, over 70% of the women had thicker skin, less wrinkling, and higher levels of elastic fibers and collagen.

And a study in human skin cells study found that soy isoflavones worked similarly to topical retinoids (such as Retin-A) as an anti-aging skin treatment … without the light-sensitivity that comes with Retin-A treatment.

Soy isoflavones are available as supplements, but Dr. Andrew Weil and other experts recommend whole soy foods over supplements and processed soy foods such as soy milk and soy protein.

Whole soy foods include tofu, tempeh, miso, and edamame (boiled or steamed soybean pods).

#6: Sugars and starches aggravate acne
The glycemic index is a measure of how much a food impacts your blood sugar levels.

Several studies show that diets dominated by foods with higher glycemic indices may contribute to and trigger acne.

One clinical study in 23 young men found that eating a low-glycemic-index diet improved their acne within 12 weeks, while also reducing inflammation in their skin and acne lesions.

High-carb foods with a low glycemic index include:

  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Beans and lentils
  • Colorful, fibrous vegetables
  • Most fruits, including apples, pears, peaches and grapefruit

High-carb foods with a high glycemic index include:

  • Crackers
  • White rice
  • Instant oats
  • White bread
  • Baked goods
  • White potatoes
  • Packaged cereals

You'll find lists of low-, medium-, and high-GI foods and related glycemic load (GL) information at the University of Sydney's GI Group.

We also recommend the University of Oregon chart, "Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods”.

#7: Dietary collagen seems to rejuvenate skin
Few skin-enhancement claims incite more controversy than ones made for dietary collagen.

Researchers have generally dismissed them, because the body breaks collagen into amino acids that don't specifically travel to the skin.

But intriguing new clinical research suggests that collagen-peptide supplements can rejuvenate skin, which suggests that collagen-rich foods might also bring some benefits.

Back in 2014, researchers at Germany's University of Kiel published the results of two separate clinical trials that involved a total of 183 women aged 35 to 65.

In these double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, women took hefty doses (2.5 to 5 grams) of a specific hydrolyzed-collagen supplement once a day.

(The process of hydrolysis breaks collagen down into smaller pieces called peptides, "which are more "bioavailable” than the whole collagen in foods such as bone broths.)

In one trial, the German researchers measured a 20 percent reduction in wrinkle depth around the women's eyes after 8 weeks of taking the collagen-peptide supplement.

And their body levels of procollagen – the precursor to collagen – rose by surprising 65 percent.

Although it seemed improbable, these special collagen-peptide supplements rejuvenated the participants' skin to a remarkable extent.

The question remains whether the whole collagen in foods such as bone broth would have similar effects … but these findings raise that real possibility.


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