As we age, our skin naturally becomes weaker and loses its vitality. Certain lifestyle choices can encourage this aging, including smoking, drinking, lack of sleep and excessive dieting, leading to our skin being an outward representation of how we have lived our lives. Sun damage is another extrinsic factor that intensifies the aging of skin, and in Cayman this is sometimes hard to avoid.
Why does skin age or get damaged?
Our skin is the largest organ of our body at 22 square feet, and is constantly under attack by environmental stressors. It ages both due to these extrinsic oxidative stressors, such as those mentioned above, as well as intrinsic factors such as genetic makeup and natural aging.
Both environmental influences and cell metabolism create byproducts called free radicals which change the structure and function of other molecules and can lead to a breakdown in collagen and impact skin’s DNA structure, as well as contributing to other health issues. Our body does have a natural defense against these free radicals, including enzymes that deactivate them using antioxidant effects, but it can become overwhelmed.
What are antioxidants?
As well as protecting our skin with sunscreen or covering up with clothing, some foods we eat can be beneficial in protecting our skin since they contain antioxidant enzymes and molecules which protect us from free radicals and lower age-related oxidative stress and inflammation. Damage will still occur but can be slowed. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, try to get your nutrients from a balanced diet if possible, instead of from high-dose supplementation which may be expensive, and in some cases, dangerous.
Skin friendly antioxidants
Antioxidants in our diet include vitamin C, E, carotenoid pigments and polyphenols. Various antioxidants are available through different food sources and are also influenced by farming, packaging, transport, storage and cooking techniques. Here are some examples of good dietary sources.
Sunflower Seeds: These small powerhouses are packed with vitamin E which is the most abundant fat-soluble antioxidant found in skin. It is purported to prevent inflammatory damage from sun exposure and help to reduce aging and skin cancer risk from excessive UV radiation. Other good dietary sources of vitamin E are polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as soybean, canola and olive, as well as spinach, almonds, bell peppers, collards, asparagus, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, whole wheat flour, margarine, dairy and meats. As vitamin E is fat-soluble, be sure to consume it with fat to boost absorption.
Broccoli: Like citrus fruits, broccoli contains high amounts of vitamin C, a water soluble antioxidant which is absorbed well by the body. It is known to promote collagen growth and protect from UV radiation. Broccoli also contains high amounts of vitamin E and when vitamins C and E work together, their effects are magnified. Vitamin C is not produced by the body, so must be consumed. It can also be found in blackberries and blueberries, red pepper and leafy green vegetables. Our body’s reservoir of vitamin C decreases with age and is further decreased by extrinsic factors such as smoking.
Cooked Tomatoes: The red pigment lycopene is the most abundant carotenoid in tomatoes. It is a well established potent antioxidant, with studies showing it protects skin from UV ray damage. There are also beneficial amounts in watermelon, apricots, guava, as well as pink grapefruit. However be wary of serious drug-nutrient interactions with this fruit if you are on medication.
Sweet Potato: This orange tuberous root contains beta-carotene, another carotenoid that is absorbed well by the body and is converted into vitamin A. It is capable of scavenging free radicals. Other rich sources of beta-carotene are yellow, orange, and green leafy vegetables such as carrots, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, red peppers, and fruit such as mango, melon and apricots. In general, the more intense the color of the fruit or vegetable, the more beta-carotene it has.
Oily Fish: As well as being rich in omega-3, oily fish contains coenzyme Q10. This is a fat-soluble nutrient also found in organ meats, whole grains, spinach and nuts. It is both gained from the diet and synthesized in the body. However, levels diminish with age and are also affected by extrinsic factors such as smoking. Coenzyme Q10 is consistently the first antioxidant to be eliminated in the skin and hence is added to many topical skin creams.
Green Tea: Green tea is rich in polyphenols, specifically the flavonoid catechin, which is considered adept at inhibiting carcinogenic effects of UV rays and protecting against sunburn and photoaging. Black tea also contains catechins, albeit in lower amounts, as do dark chocolate, blackberries, raspberries, apples, beans and red wine.
Red Grapes: Another polyphenolic compound is resveratrol, found in grapes, berries and peanuts. This is a potent antioxidant and may play a role in treating cutaneous signs of aging. There are differing opinions as to the bioavailability of resveratrol, but the health benefit of food containing it is unquestionable. This also means that red wine contains resveratrol, especially pinot noir varieties, according to the journal Food Chemistry. As always, enjoy in moderation!
Skin friendly nutrients and antioxidants are found in a host of other foods. Enjoying a varied and balanced diet full of fresh foods and bright colors will ensure that you consume a wide range of nutrients that benefit both your health and appearance.