Looking for a natural way to slow down the signs of aging? Then feed your skin with the best anti-aging foods and nutrients.
How much time, effort and money do you spend on creams and treatments in an attempt to keep the visible signs of ageing at bay? While we may believe they make a difference there is another way to keep your skin looking youthful and healthy. The health and appearance of your skin just like the health of your other organs correlates to the lifestyle and dietary choices you make. Unless you take action to support your skin’s internal structure and defence systems the youthful qualities of your skin will rapidly deteriorate.
How Your Skin Ages
If you’re keen to safeguard your skin, it’s important to understand the key processes that drive skin damage and cause premature ageing. And these factors don’t only apply to your skin, but also to many other organs in your body too.
As we age there is a decline in the levels of hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone, DHEA and growth hormone which all influence the appearance of our skin. Oestrogen can influence cell renewal and declining levels as we age can result in thinning of the skin, loss of moisture and wrinkling. Capillary blood circulation also decreases affecting skin’s strength and elasticity. Other hormones such as DHEA an anti-stress hormone and melatonin (our sleep hormone) can also influence skin health. DHEA is converted into oestrogen while melatonin can help stimulate cell growth. Both also act as antioxidants protecting the skin against ultraviolet (UV) damage.
TAKE ACTION: Getting sufficient sleep really is important for youthful looking skin. Learn how to manage stress and fit in relaxation time. Some anti-aging creams now contain DHEA to help skin renewal. For hormone balancing try adding maca to smoothies and include foods rich in phytoestrogens such as flaxseed, fermented soy and alfalfa to help balance levels of oestrogen. My functional nutrition book Eat to Get Younger provides a wealth of recipes to help balance hormone levels and tackle stress.
Environmental Toxins & Oxidative damage
Our skin is constantly exposed to uv radiation and air pollution creating free radicals, which wreak havoc on the structure of the skin. Damage can lead to uneven blotchy pigmentation as well as wrinkles and sagging skin. This oxidative damage breaks down collagen, alters cell renewal, damages DNA and results in inflammation. Smoking is well known to damage and age the body including the skin. Cigarette smoke produces oxidative stress and impairs circulation making the skin more vulnerable to damage, aging and disease. A smoker’s skin often looks lined, dull, uneven and dehydrated. The other major toxin for the skin is UV damage. Known as photo-aging chronic skin exposure damages the dermal connective tissue and alters the skin’s metabolism resulting in damage and inflammation. Collagen is destroyed and vital antioxidants such as vitamin E and C within the skin are reduced. To counter this our skin needs an effective antioxidant defence system, which is influenced by the foods, we choose to eat.
TAKE ACTION: Pile your plate with colourful vegetables and fruit. Include selenium rich Brazil nuts and plenty of nuts and seeds rich in vitamin E. Optimise your antioxidant defences by including plenty of polyphenol rich foods. These include dark berries rich in anthocyanins, catechins from green tea, bioflavonoids from citrus fruits and genistein from soy. Good news for chocolate lovers – raw cacao beans are rich in protective proanthocyanidins. Carotenoids and lycopene found in orange and red fruits and vegetables as well as leafy green vegetables can help protect the skin against UV damage. CoQ10 found in supplements and fish such as herring and trout can also be protective.
Limit exposure to the sun and if you smoke consider quitting.
One of the biggest culprits for accelerated ageing is sugar! Carbohydrates in particular provide the body with glucose. While this is a vital cellular fuel it can also lead to a process called glycation. Sugar in our body can attach to proteins including collagen damaging its structure and creating advanced glycation end products. These are particularly destructive causing extensive damage to proteins in our skin. The result is collagen fibres lose elasticity, become more brittle and more prone to breakage – this assault on the structure of the skin results in aging.
The amino acid Taurine has been shown to repairs the skin barrier, rehydrates keratinocytes (the main cells of the upper skin layers), inhibit apoptosis, and reduce free radical damage. Taurine also offers antioxidant, anti-inflammatory benefits and may inhibit glycation.
TAKE ACTION: Ditch the sugar in all its forms. Avoid processed foods, excess carbohydrates including too many grains (especially white refined), take aways, biscuits, cakes, sodas, shop bought juices and energy drinks. Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink too. Try some of my low carbohydrate treats in my book and check out my recipe page too
Another reason why our skin ages is declining levels of collagen. Collagen is a crucial protein in all connective tissues – not just the skin but also in bone, the skeletal joints, blood vessels, and our digestive tract. It’s what keeps skin supple, firm and elastic. As collagen is a protein you need to make sure your diet is rich in quality protein sources. Vitamin C, and plant antioxidants are needed for the synthesis of collagen fibres and help to preserve collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid key components of healthy skin.
TAKE ACTION: In addition to plenty of vegetables and fruits for antioxidants It’s important to eat high quality sources of protein every day, preferably at every meal. It is the amino acids in these protein foods that are used by the body to make collagen. The most easy to digest and use are eggs, whey protein powder, fish and poultry.
Don’t forget the importance of water for maintaining the plumped out, youthful look of skin and making wrinkles less obvious. Excessive dryness of the skin promotes fine lines and weakens cells. It can cause lipids in the skin’s fatty layer to crystallize, causing dull and flaking skin. Hyaluronic acid, a natural skin constituent, is a good moisturiser owing to its ability to capture water molecules, which reduces the visibility of lines. It is also a volumizing agent. For these reasons, hyaluronic acid is an ingredient in many skincare applications. Make sure you drink sufficient fluids during the day – read our blog on hydration.
Houses and offices can be very dehydrating – central heating and air conditioning can dry out your skin. Coupled with a diet high in sodium this can reduce circulation to the skin which in turn affects cell renewal and repair.
TAKE ACTION: Aim to drink about 6-8 glasses of water per day more if you exercise regularly. Coconut water is rich in electrolytes which are effective at hydrating the body quickly. Try herbal and green teas for a hot alternative. Avoid excess regular tea, coffee and alcohol as they can block absorption of key nutrients. Green juices are incredibly nutrient rich – there are a range of recipes in my book.
Get the Healthy Fats
Within your skin fatty acids make up an important component of the cell membranes providing structure and improving their function. Getting a healthy balance of the right types of fats is crucial for young looking skin. Excessive amounts of saturated fats or omega 6 fats found in red meat, dairy, vegetable oils and margarines can be inflammatory but equally avoiding fat altogether can lead to dry, flaky and dull skin.
TAKE ACTION: Focus on a Mediterrean style of eating with plenty of olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish. These provide monounsaturated and omega 3 fats which help lower inflammation and nourish the skin.
There are a number of supplements that may help support healthy skin. My top choices include Collagen powder, Hyaluronic acid an antioxidant formula and Coenzyme Q10