Editor’s note: Always encourage clients to check with their physicians before they add new herbs or supplements to their diets.
Beauty from within is one of the hottest topics in the spa and cosmetic industries right now. The concept of promoting natural beauty through the consumption of foods and beverages originated thousands of years ago. During these times, people had an excellent understanding of herbs and their health-promoting properties. Herbs fell out of fashion as recently as the 1930s, when pharmaceutical companies began switching to modern drugs and synthesized molecules. Paradoxically, the more that is learned about the science of skin, aging, herbs and vitamins, the more relevant beauty from within becomes. Scientific explanations can now be offered for why an herb, such as green tea, can make a person look and feel younger, revitalized and more energetic. 1, 2, 3
Most people associate beauty with youthfulness, resulting in the anti-aging concept. There are topical products that can help accomplish anti-aging results; however, by taking oral supplements, the effects start deeper in the body and work their way toward the surface. This establishes a solid beauty base that is more than skin deep.
There are five pillars of beauty that support skin health, radiance and vitality.
- Antioxidants that fight oxidation in the cells.
- Anti-inflammation reduces the aging effects of inflammation.
- Detoxification helps remove toxins from the cells and blood.
- Cell microcirculation brings in nutrients and removes waste.
- Inhibiting destructive enzymes and increasing cellular energy supports the skin’s structural matrix.
Woven together, these five properties make up an effective anti-aging program.
What comprises skin
Much of the skin consists of the protein called collagen; it provides support and structure. Elastin is another protein in skin that makes the skin elastic. The third component of skin, making it strong, elastic and youthful, are glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). In healthy, young skin, all three components are produced in plentiful quantities. Things change, however, when a person ages.
The skin ages in both intrinsic mechanisms, such as destructive enzymes that break down collagen and elastin and weaken the skin’s matrix, and extrinsic mechanisms, such as exposure to the sun’s UV radiation, chemicals and oxidation. Collagen, elastin and GAGs are subject to the ravages of both intrinsic and extrinsic aging. The result is an increase in wrinkles, pigmentation and changes in the skin’s thickness.
The body is under constant attack from oxidizing agents. These include the notorious free radicals, but also many other molecules that either come from the environment or a person’s metabolism. The result of oxidation is damage to tissues, cellular DNA, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates. Of course, the body has its own antioxidant system, including superoxide dismutase, glutathione and others. Its intrinsic antioxidant system, however, weakens with age and should be augmented through the diet.
There are many different kinds of dietary antioxidants available and most of them have been well-studied in laboratories. Because there are many kinds of oxidizing agents in the body, this is not a one-size-fits-all situation. It is best to take a variety of antioxidants that have different specialties. Most of these belong to the group of natural chemicals called polyphenols (see Popular Polyphenols).
Because oxidation is one of the most severe causes of premature aging, a good mix of antioxidants makes for a great defense, contributing to an anti-aging program and helping maintain the beauty of youth.
One of the immune system’s most powerful tools to fight infections is inflammation. Some of the characteristics of the inflammation process include increased blood flow to the target site, migration of the immune system cells to the area, increased free radical production, destruction of normal tissue and production of scar tissue. All this is critical to fighting infection and disease. However, if the inflammation lingers, it can become chronic and dangerous. Aging promotes inflammation, inflammation promotes premature aging and beauty starts to fade. It is a vicious cycle.
There are many botanical extracts that inhibit inflammation. Green tea is one of the most powerful and has been studied more than any other natural product for its anti-inflammatory properties.4, 5 The superfruits all have varying amounts of anti-inflammation power, and acai, pomegranate and grape are among the most potent.
Detoxification is critical
Toxic substances enter the body every day by way of air, food, water, medications and even the products of a normal metabolism. If left to wallow about the body, they will cause damage to many organs and the immune system, and will eventually make a person look and feel tired, old and worn out. For example: Smoking causes the buildup of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the blood. The ROS stimulates bad collagenase and elastase, which break down the skin’s structural matrix causing the formation of wrinkles.
Enzyme systems exist in the liver that specialize in breaking down these toxins into less harmful substances. It is important to get rid of all that waste material and, in order to do so, healthy liver, kidneys and intestines are needed. There are some very powerful herbs that support the health of these organs and promote detoxification, including medicinal mushrooms, such as reishi, maitake, shiitake and cordyceps; milk thistle, which is rich in silymarin; green and white tea; and mangosteen. By keeping your liver working at optimum efficiency, you can help slow down the aging process.
There is no need to stockpile food if you cannot deliver it to the hungry. The same is true for your skin; an abundant nutrient supply will help keep skin cells healthy and vitalized. Your microcirculation is responsible for bringing nutrients to the cells and carrying away the waste materials; providing a supply of oxygen; and removing the carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, the circulation to skin cells decreases with age. There are herbs that, when ingested, help support microcirculation. These include green tea, kudzu root, lotus leaf, acai berry, grape, mangosteen and blueberry. By supporting nourishment and detoxification of the skin cells, you can help suppress premature aging, wrinkles and weary-looking skin.
Collagen and elastin
These critical proteins make up the skin’s supporting matter and are easily destroyed by enzymes called collagenases and elastases, along with other protein-breaking enzymes. In fact, UV light from the sun, ROS and inflammation contribute to the activity of these enzymes, further degrading the structure of the skin.
Once again, the body’s natural defenses against the enzymatic destruction of the skin decrease with age. Luckily, they can be inhibited with natural products in the diet. One of the most powerful of these is green tea, which actually decreases the activity of collagenase and elastase.3, 6 Others include pomegranate, aloe vera, turmeric and rosemary. In fact, pomegranate extract has been shown to stimulate the production of collagen, increasing the skin’s elasticity.7, 8
Elastin is also inhibited by the decrease in estrogen associated with menopause—this is one reason that people develop wrinkles as they age. Pinch an older person’s hand, and the skin stays put for minutes. Pinch a child’s hand, and the skin returns almost instantly to its smooth appearance. Phytoestrogens are plant substances that act like estrogen in the body without the negative side effects that often come with hormone replacement therapy.9, 10 The isoflavones in kudzu root, lotus leaf and soy are commonly used phytoestrogens that have been shown to help women during menopause. For this reason, phytoestrogens should play an important role in any internal nutrition program.
It is not easy to keep up good appearances. With all the aforementioned forces pulling at the skin and gravity weighing you down, you need all the energy you can muster to keep looking fit and youthful. Consider two aspects of energy: the overall feeling of being energized, and cellular energy and a healthy metabolism.
Many of the superfruits, such as pomegranate, acai, goji, mangosteen and blueberry have been shown to be energizing. After drinking a tea with these ingredients, people feel energetic and healthy. Green tea has a similar effect, leaving the consumer charged and prepared for the day. Oxidative stress weakens the immune system, causes oxidative damage to cells, and interferes with normal metabolism and the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy. These antioxidant and anti-inflammatory fruits help to relieve oxidative stress, giving way to a more energized body.
Your cells need energy to function. The skin constantly regenerates cells, which is a very energy-dependent procedure—no energy, no regeneration. The result is tired and aged-looking skin. Mitochondria are small organelles in all cells that generate energy. Coenzyme Q10 is a substance that your cells produce to help the mitochondria perform. As you have probably surmised, the ability for the mitochondria to turn fuel into energy wanes with age, as does the amount of coenzyme Q10 available. Studies show that you can boost your coenzyme Q10 content by taking dietary supplements.11, 12 Always take a liquid form with a source of oil or fat to improve absorption into the bloodstream.
Another crucial anti-aging concept is the importance of relaxation. Stress causes the release of steroid hormones, such as cortisol, into the bloodstream. This has many age-promoting effects, including increased blood sugar, inflammation and cravings. It also slows metabolism and pumps fats into the liver.
The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of stress, weight gain, inflammation and more stress, which means accelerated aging. There are many products on the market to help reduce stress and support relaxation. One recent study from Japan, for example, demonstrated that green tea consumption has a significant soothing effect on stress.13 Other stress-relieving ingredients to look for include the following:
- Chamomile tea is widely known for its relaxing properties.
- Passion flower tea has relaxing and anti-addictive properties, and is used extensively in Europe to help patients recover from addictions.14
- L-theanine is an amino acid from green tea and has been clinically proven to provide an alert sense of relaxation without drowsiness.15, 16, 17
- Green tea has been shown to instill a sense of well-being and ease mental distress.15, 16, 17
The earlier, the better
Aging does not have to result in becoming unattractive; in fact, many people become more beautiful as they age. The trick is to maintain the most youthful skin and appearance possible so that beauty with age can take place. This can be helped by consuming food and beverages that promote internal health. Using the skin’s own intrinsic ability to heal and regenerate assisted by the ingestion of antioxidant-rich products, much can be accomplished to slow the clock. Miracles cannot be expected, but the earlier you begin an antioxidant program, the better the results will be.
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10. S Sellmann, Hormone Heresy: What Women Must Know About Their Hormones, GetWell International, Tulsa, OK (2000)
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14. K Dhawan, Drug/substance reversal effects of a novel tri-substituted benzoflavone moiety (BZF) isolated from Passiflora incarnata Linn—a brief perspective, Addict Biol 8 4 379–86 (Dec 2003)
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