By now, it comes as no surprise that research consistently extols a nutrient-dense diet not only for disease prevention and overall well-being but also for improving your appearance. In fact, a recent analysis from the journal Dermato-Endocrinology deemed nutrition among the most important factors for skin health. Many of you agree: When we asked Delicious Living readers for top skin-health secrets, you advocated nutrient-dense fruits and veggies and healthy fats as the best defense against dry skin, wrinkles, and more. However, when you’re not getting enough crucial nutrients, the results can show up on the outside. “As with many things, symptoms of nutrient deficiencies frequently appear on your skin, nails, and hair,” says Amy Wechsler, MD, a New York City–based dermatologist and author of The Mind-Beauty Connection (Free Press, 2008). To pinpoint common deficits, book an appointment with your mirror and look for these signs, which can indicate unexpected dietary imbalances as well as more serious health issues.
Everyone gets wrinkles, whether from sun exposure, eating too many processed foods, or aging. But research from the Yale School of Medicine shows that deeper wrinkles may also indicate lower bone density, which increases fracture risk. The reason: Skin and bones share the same building block proteins, including collagen, which keeps skin taut and wrinkle-free.
- The fix: Take 2,000 mg collagen (including types I and III) daily and eat foods containing lysine, an amino acid that helps your body build collagen and absorb calcium. Lysine-rich foods include fish, egg whites, and legumes. For overall skin health and wrinkle prevention, also opt for free radical–fighting fruits and vegetables, along with healthy oils such as olive oil and flaxseed oil.
Skin pallor could signal various concerns, including anemia or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). If you have hypothyroidism you also may notice yellowish skin or orange palms and soles, thought to result from impaired conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A.
- The fix: If anemia is causing your pallor, your medical practitioner will check your levels of vitamins B6, B12, B9 (folate), iron, and vitamin C; deficiencies may require large-dose treatments to get you back on track. If hypothyroidism is the culprit, as part of a comprehensive thyroid-stabilizing diet you’ll want to incorporate vitamin D (1,000–2,000 IU daily), iron (15–30 mg elemental iron daily), and selenium (400 mcg daily). Also eat plenty of lightly cooked brassica and cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli, which help balance thyroid hormones and are filled with cancer-fighting phytochemicals and fiber (but eaten raw, they can actually exacerbate the problem).
Hyperpigmentation, blemishes, dry skin
These pesky discolorations, also known as melasma, appear on the face, nails, hands, or even hair, and signal increased melanin production. Aging and sun exposure are common culprits, but another possible cause is insufficient vitamin B12, which helps regulate your body’s pigment production and location.
- The fix: Take 1,000 mcg vitamin B12 daily to restore skin’s original hue. Also eat vitamin B12–rich foods, including sardines, salmon, and yogurt. Supplementing daily with 2 mg astaxanthin, a natural carotenoid from microalgae, can also regulate melanin production.
Hormones and irritating products aren’t the only culprits behind breakouts. Redness and irritation may be signals that toxins have overloaded your organs or that your digestion is off-kilter.
- The fix: Avoid sugars, refined carbs, red meat, and overly processed foods, which tax the liver and attack your skin’s collagen by attaching to it and forming advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that make collagen more fragile and are inflammatory-response triggers. Instead, choose detoxifying green tea, green-food smoothies, and enzyme-rich papaya and pineapple, which “help clean up areas of inflammation when eaten between meals and not with other foods,” says Alan Dattner, MD. Focus your detox even more by supplementing with curcumin, fiber, and chlorella.
Severely dry skin.
While climate and season play a part, another common reason for perpetually dry, flaky, uncomfortable skin is fatty acid deficiency, which is a difficult imbalance to restore, requiring time and proper nutrients, according to Alan Dattner, MD, a New York–based holistic dermatologist, founder of holisticdermatology.com, and Delicious Living advisory board member. “Getting the right oils into your body can take months because they go into all of the cells,” he says.
- The fix: Drink plenty of water (at least eight glasses daily) and eat fluid-dense fruits, vegetables, and beans to support the liquids in your skin cells. Then loadup on enough cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, and fish oil supplements to obtain 3,000 mg fish oil daily. [Indicate how much you get from eating fish itself; e.g., how many milligrams in 8 ounces of salmon.] In addition to helping cells retain moisture to keep skin looking supple, omega-3s quell inflammation that leads to acne and other skin irritation.