Skin Deep Beauty

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Beauty from the Inside Out
By Heather Pratt, MNT

They say beauty is only skin deep, but “they” obviously don’t know anything about how the skin works. Considering that our skin is a direct reflection of what is happening on the inside, it is much more accurate to say “beauty is much deeper than skin deep.” Nearly every condition of the skin, from wrinkles and age spots to acne, eczema, and psoriasis, can be influenced by a deeper bodily imbalance. Standard efforts to treat the skin focus mostly on topical solutions with very little   acknowledgement of the underlying causes. While  topical treatments may work to a certain extent, it is also  important to investigate what is happening internally.  Being proactive with your food choices is one crucial step in maintaining the health of your skin and to start  creating beauty from the inside out.

Read more about Balancing Blood Sugar

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The skin is the body’s largest organ and belongs to the  integumentary system, which also includes the hair  and nails. The outermost layer of the skin is called the  epidermis and helps protect us from infection, extreme  temperatures, and ultraviolet radiation; it is constantly  renewing itself. The next layer is the dermis, which is a  thick connective tissue layer made up of water, collagen,  and elastin fibers. Collagen is like the scaffolding, giving  structure and firmness to the skin while helping to keep  it hydrated, while elastin give the skin elasticity. Directly  below the dermis is the subcutaneous layer that, among  other things, contains fat tissue, blood vessels, and nerves  that connect the skin to the rest of the body; this layer  also contains some collagen and elastin. Like all other  body systems, the integumentary system is dependent  on nutrients for optimal function and is susceptible to  imbalances caused by poor diet, stress, and toxins.

Understanding the Imbalances

In the past several years there has been an influx of skin  care products containing antioxidants, and with good reason: the most widely accepted theory of aging is the  free radical theory. Free radicals are unstable molecules  that damage cells, proteins, and DNA in the body. When  it comes to the skin, free radicals initiate the breakdown  of the skin’s structural support (collagen and elastin),  decreasing the elasticity and suppleness of the skin, while  increasing inflammation. Free radicals are generated by  natural bodily processes but are also formed from tobacco  smoke, chemical toxins, pollutants, UV radiation, and  certain foods. The body has built-in antioxidant systems  to balance the effects of free radicals but when these  systems are overwhelmed, excess free radicals damage  the cell membrane, making them stiff and inflexible.  Ultimately this damage leads to an inflammatory  response. Inflammation is at the root of nearly every skin  condition – it leads to collagen breakdown and initiates  the clogging of pores; it is also responsible for the raised,  red, and often itchy skin that comes with rashes, eczema,  and psoriasis.

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Free radical damage is not the only thing that can cause  inflammation in the skin. Ultraviolet radiation exposure,  air pollution, certain diseases, stress, lack of sleep,  dehydration, and sugar consumption all contribute to  skin inflammation. What many people don’t realize is  that sugar consumption, with its ensuing blood sugar and  insulin spike, is a real killer for the skin. Not only does  elevated blood sugar create free radicals and promote  inflammation, it also leads to the formation of AGEs;  and AGEs do exactly what they sound like they do –  they age us. Their outward manifestations can be seen  as tough skin with deep lines. Sugar’s destructive effects  on the skin don’t stop with AGEs, because with a rise in  blood glucose comes a rise in insulin. As insulin levels  rise, a hormonal cascade that favors tissue growth is set  into action. In the skin, these hormones can encourage  clogged follicles, the destruction of collagen, and the  formation of abnormalities like skin tags. The effect that  elevated blood sugar has on the skin is massive. And you  don’t have to be diabetic or prediabetic to experience the  damaging effects of raised blood sugar. New research has  shown that damage can occur even with slightly elevated  blood sugar, still within the ‘normal’ range. Keeping  your blood sugar stable throughout the day is critical to  protecting your skin.

Whether you are fighting wrinkles or acne, it is wise  to focus on balancing your blood sugar and reducing  free radical damage, but know that conditions such as  eczema, psoriasis, or acne may require additional work  to correct underlying imbalances, including excess  inflammation. Believe it or not, looking to the gut  might be the best place to begin – when the intestinal  lining is damaged it can lead to systemic inflammation.  The connection between digestive conditions and skin  manifestations are well recognized: constipation and  acne, celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis, food  allergies and eczema. Researchers are just beginning to  understand how the beneficial bacteria in the intestines  may influence the skin; for example, probiotics modulate  inflammation and several studies have linked probiotic intake with improvements in acne. Besides, the health of  the digestive tract determines the efficiency with which  you digest and absorb the foods you eat, and thus the  nutrients that will be available to feed the skin.

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Feed Your Skin from the Inside

There are plenty of ways to support skin health  through the diet. The following is a brief list  of some exceptional skin foods and practices.

? Balance the blood sugar by avoiding foods that  cause a spike, including all sugars, flour products, and  even fruits for some people. Eat at regular intervals  and be sure to include adequate protein and fat.

? Get plenty of antioxidants by eating a rainbow  of vegetables every day. Other good sources of  antioxidants include berries; green and white tea;  chocolate (but only if it is 80% cacao content or  higher, otherwise you run the risk of getting too  much sugar and the benefits are lost); and herbs  such as turmeric, ginger, rosemary, and cinnamon.

? Get the right fats to balance inflammation. Eat  plenty of omega-3s, found in wild, coldwater, fatty  fish, and avoid pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats  from vegetable oils and trans-fats. Also include  a variety of monounsaturated and saturated fats  such as those found in avocados, olive oil, nuts  and seeds, coconut oil, butter, and naturallyraised  animal products. They help modulate  inflammation and maintain a healthy cell membrane.

?Consume probiotic rich foods daily such as yogurt,  kefir, unpasteurized sauerkraut, kim chi, miso, and  kombuchato support the health of the digestive system.

? Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Pure water not only  helps to keep the skin clean and hydrated but also helps to fight inflammation.

? Sulfur-rich foods such as eggs, meat,  poultry, onions, garlic, and cruciferous  vegetables help to build collagen and glutathione,  the body’s most potent internal antioxidant.

? Vitamin A is a potent antioxidant and important  for promoting skin cell turnover. Foods high in  vitamin A include liver, grass-fed butter, eggs, and  cod liver oil. Red and yellow fruits and vegetables  like carrots, sweet potatoes, and red peppers supply  beta-carotene, which is also an antioxidant that the  body can convert to vitaminA. (Note: a large number  of the population does not efficiently convert betacarotene  to vitamin A, so supplementation may be  necessary.)

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Every meal and snack gives you the chance to foster skin  health from the inside, letting your beauty shine through.  So go ahead, feed yourself gorgeous!

Read more about Balancing Blood Sugar


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