The Secret of beautiful skin – nutrition from the inside
Between the passing agony of teenage spots and the inevitability of wrinkles, there is a stage when one hopes to become the proud owner of velvety smooth skin. Not for those suffering from bad skin or adult acne, though, who have to contend with ‘bad skin’ in their twenties, thirties and beyond.
Acne involves the skin’s sebaceous glands on the face, neck, chest, back and shoulders. The tiny glands produce an oily substance called sebum which lubricates the hair follicles and surrounding skin. Elevated androgen levels (male hormones), found naturally in women as well as men, are believed to be the main culprit behind acne as they cause an overproduction in sebum. Then all that ‘s required to clog up the follicle canal are dead skin cells and a few bacteria and, hey presto, a spot is born!
Hormonal surges, such as those that occur premenstrually, during and after pregnancy, or when coming on or off the contraceptive pill commonly trigger acne and bad skin conditions in adult women. Other predisposing factors include environmental toxins, stress, certain medications and diet. Often, there is no obvious reason.
Topical treatments are usually the first line of treatment, but if these prove ineffective, antibiotics and the pill are routinely recommended. But many people experience side effects from these and find that the underlying causes of bad skin are not addressed. The most controversial prescribed oral treatment is a potent retinoid (vitamin A derivative) called Accutane which has been linked to birth defects and severe depression.
There is no scientific evidence that specific foods cause acne, but dietary changes can reduce infection and help to even out hormonal activity. A diet low in fibre and high in refined carbohydrates (white bread, biscuits, cakes, sweets, breakfast cereals) should be avoided as it stimulates insulin production, which in turn encourages the secretion of sebum. A diet high in sugars and starches may also disturb the bacterial ecology on the surface of the skin. Unrefined carbs, such as fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses and brown rice are better choices.
Essential fats from oily fish, seeds and their cold-pressed oils are easily absorbed into cell membranes, whereas chemically altered and fried fats clog narrow pores. Therefore it’s a good idea to decrease intake of fried, sugary and fatty foods and increase fresh produce, vegetables and whole grains. Drinking at least 6 tumblers of water every day keeps the skin hydrated.
Acne sufferers are likely to be deficient in the mineral zinc required for the healing of bad skin tissue and to fight infection. Betacarotene (in carrots, sweet potatoes and other yellow, orange and green fruit and vegetables) improves collagen and elastin production, making the skin plump and supple. In addition, B complex (especially vitamin B6), vitamin E and selenium have all been found to combat acne. Probiotic therapy is recommended to deal with the repercussions of long term antibiotics.
Nutritional therapy helps to balance sebum production, avoid congestion in skin pores and reduce scarring. In addition, the skin becomes more resistant to free radical damage, preventing premature aging. Rather than using a punishing routine of harsh exfoliating treatments, it makes sense to regenerate the skin gently and respectfully by feeding it from the inside out.
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First published Brighton Argus, May 2004