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The old adage “you are what you eat” not only applies to our overall health and nutrition, but how our skin looks and feels as well. As the largest organ in the body, our skin can benefit from the same nutrition we get from foods that have a positive effect on our heart and other major organs. In fact, new research suggests that eating foods rich in protein and certain vitamins and minerals might provide valuable anti-aging effects.
In recognition of National Healthy Skin Month, dermatologist Susan C. Taylor, MD, FAAD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York, N.Y., and clinical assistant professor of dermatology and associate faculty of the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa., spoke at the American Academy of Dermatology's Academy about the importance of eating nutritious foods for optimal skin health and how foods can aggravate common medical skin conditions.
“While there's no mistaking how our diet affects our overall health, we're just beginning to understand how certain foods—or lack thereof—can impact our skin's health,” said Dr. Taylor. “In addition, studies show that some food and beverages can even worsen common skin conditions and cause allergic reactions that manifest on the skin.”
Good Food, Good Skin
Perhaps the simplest way to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and ensure the skin is getting optimal nutrition from the foods we eat is to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Daily Food Guide, commonly referred to as the food pyramid. These include:
* Choosing and eating at least three ounces of whole grain breads, cereals, rice, crackers or pasta.
* Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including more dark green and orange vegetables.
* Consuming calcium-rich foods, such as fat-free or low-fat milk and other dairy products.
* Opting for a variety of low-fat or lean meats, poultry and fish.
“The foods recommended by the USDA as part of a healthy diet contain valuable vitamins and minerals that have proven health benefits for our bodies,” said Dr. Taylor. “Research has shown that the antioxidants in vitamins C and E can protect the skin from sun damage and help reduce damage in skin cells caused by harmful free radicals, which contribute to aging skin. Similarly, we have long known that the B vitamin biotin is responsible for forming the basis of skin, hair and nail cells, and vitamin A—found in many fruits and vegetables—maintains and repairs skin tissue. Without an adequate supply of these vitamins, you may notice it in the appearance of your skin, hair and nails.”
While the direct link between food consumption and skin damage has not been widely studied, one study comparing the correlation between food and nutrient intake with skin wrinkling found a positive relationship. The study, “Skin Wrinkling: Can Food Make a Difference?”, published in the February 2001 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, determined that Swedish subjects aged 70 and older had the least skin wrinkling in a sun-exposed site among the four ethnic groups studied. This cross-sectional study, which analyzed the pooled data using the major food groups, suggests “that subjects with a higher intake of vegetables, olive oil, and monounsaturated fat and legumes, but a lower intake of milk/dairy products, butter, margarine and sugar products had less skin wrinkling in a sun-exposed site.”
“More studies need to be done to determine the long-term benefits of food on our skin,” said Dr. Taylor. “Eating a variety of healthy foods and drinking plenty of water so the skin stays hydrated should help most people improve the appearance of their skin.”