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The skin is our largest organ and on average, it equates to around 16% of our overall weight. Covering our entire body, it acts as a protective shield against external threats, such as pathogens and environmental pollutants
Many factors can affect the health of our skin, for example dehydration, low intake of essential fatty acids, high sugar and alcohol intake, the weather and certain skin conditions, such as eczema.
Nourishing our bodies with the right nutrients, in sufficient quantities, can be key to supporting our skin health.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, comprising around 25-35% of the body’s protein. Collagen gives skin its integrity and elasticity, with its production reducing with age. Other factors such as smoking, high sugar diet and UV radiation can affect collagen production, as well as potentially damaging collagen. The key amino acid in collagen production is glycine, which is found in animal protein, egg whites, fish, nuts and seeds. Therefore, a low protein intake can also have significant impact on collagen synthesis, and therefore overall skin health. Consuming pre-formed collagen from foods such as organic bone broth and supplements containing marine collagen (sourced from fish), can provide extra support for skin health. Marine collagen, or the well-researched peptan form, mainly consists of type I collagen, which displays high resemblance with human collagen and is easily absorbed through the gut wall.[i] Some studies have shown that collagen supplementation, especially one that is rich in type 1 collagen peptides, can improve skin elasticity, moisture,[ii] and potentially the appearance of wrinkles too.[iii]
Vitamin C is important for collagen synthesis, increasing production by acting as a cofactor for hydroxylase enzymes which produce collagen.[iv],[v] With reduced fruit and vegetable intake in western diet, vitamin C intake can often be lacking. Additionally, factors such as stress and smoking can actively deplete vitamin C levels, increasing requirements further. Therefore, supplementation could be key, especially to achieve therapeutic levels. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant.[vi] Antioxidants can prevent and protect against UV damage, upon prolonged exposure to sunlight, which can otherwise have a direct impact on skin health by promoting the breakdown of collagen.[vii] Other helpful antioxidants include vitamin E, as well as flavonoids such as hesperidin and rutin.
Essential fats such as omega-3 and omega-6 are natural components of our cells and tissues such as skin. They play a role in a number of processes, but they are particularly important as a structural component. An imbalance in these essential fats can disrupt regular cellular processes, affecting function and increasing the risk of free-radical damage. Dietary sources include oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring), chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, and avocados. Low intakes of these foods, which is common in relation to oily fish, can be associated with skin dryness [viii] [viiii]. The omega-6 Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) contributes to the maintenance of the normal structure, elasticity and appearance of the skin. It is not as easy to get from diet alone and supplementation may be beneficial for people who would like to improve their skin health. [x],[xi] . In supplements, GLA is sourced from evening primrose or borage oil.
Zinc can support skin integrity by strengthening the skin’s protective layer.[xii] It is sometimes referred to as a ‘mineral antioxidant’, due to its ability to reduce inflammation and encourage healing.[xiii] Zinc also plays a role in supporting our immune system, so can be further beneficial for those with allergic type skin conditions, such as eczema, as well as acne or rosacea.[xiv] Dietary sources of zinc include meat, shellfish, beans and pulses, and nuts and seeds. Similarly to vitamin C, zinc also acts as a cofactor for collagen synthesis.[xv]
You could be lacking hyaluronic acid if you suffer from dry skin. It is a viscous substance found in different types of connective tissue, like skin and cartilage. It is also found in synovial fluid, helping to lubricate joints and reduce friction. In the skin, hyaluronic acid has a vital protective role in providing hydration.[xvi]It is located in the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin), which is involved in water regulation, controlling the amount of water released from the body. Supplementation of hyaluronic acid can reduce the appearance of wrinkles, with significant improvements in skin lustre and suppleness.[xvii] Research has also found it to be beneficial at increasing skin moisture in individuals with dry skin.[xviii]
If you are wanting to give your skin a bit of a boost, or if you are suffering with dry skin, try to increase these nutrients within your diet, or consider supplementation for an added therapeutic effect.
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[i] De Luca C et al. Skin Antiageing and Systemic Redox Effects of Supplementation with Marine Collagen Peptides and Plant-Derived Antioxidants: A Single-Blind Case-Control Clinical Study. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:4389410.
[ii] Inoue N, Sugihara F, Wang X. Ingestion of bioactive collagen hydrolysates enhance facial skin moisture and elasticity and reduce facial ageing signs in a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study. J Sci Food Agric. 2016;96(12):4077-81.
[iii] Inoue N, Sugihara F, Wang X. Ingestion of bioactive collagen hydrolysates enhance facial skin moisture and elasticity and reduce facial ageing signs in a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study. J Sci Food Agric. 2016;96(12):4077-81.
[iv] Murad et al Proc.Natl.Acad.Sci.USA 78(5)
[v] Boyera et al. Effect of vitamin C and its derivatives on collagen synthesis and cross-linking by normal human fibroblasts. Int J Cosmet Sci. 1998; 20 (3): 151-8.
[vi] Bender, D.A. (2011) Water-soluble vitamins. In: Geissler, C. and Powers, H. Human Nutrition. 12th edn. Elsevier, Edinburgh, pp199-224.
[vii] Jariashvili K et al. UV Damage of Collagen: Insights from Model Collagen Peptides. Biopolymers. 2012;97(3):189-198.
[viii] Bjørnboe et al. Effect of n-3 fatty acid supplement to patients with atopic dermatitis. J Intern Med Suppl. 1989; 225: 233-6.
[ix] Mayser, P., Grimm, H., Grimminger,F., n-3 fatty acids in psoriasis. British Journal of Nutrition 2002; 87 Suppl 1: S77-82.
[x] Landi G. Oral administration of borage oil in atopic dermatitis. J Appl Cosmetology 1993;11:115–20.
[xi] Henz, Jablonska, et al (1999), Double-blind, multicentre analysis of the efficacy of borage oil in patients with atopic eczema. British Journal of Dermatology, 140: 685–688.
[xii] Rostan EF et al. Evidence supporting zinc as an important antioxidant for skin., Int J Dermatol. 2002;41(9):606-11
[xiii] Schwartz et al. Zinc and Skin Health: Overview of Physiology and Pharmacology. Dermatologic Surgery. 2005; 31: 837-47.
[xiv] Gupta M et al. Zinc therapy in dermatology: a review. Dermatol Res Pract. 2014;2014:709152.
[xv] Boyera et al. Effect of vitamin C and its derivatives on collagen synthesis and cross-linking by normal human fibroblasts. Int J Cosmet Sci. 1998; 20 (3): 151-8.
[xvi] Oe M, et al. Oral hyaluronan relieves knee pain: a review. Nutrition Journal. 2015;15:11.
[xvii] Oe M, et al O. Oral hyaluronan relieves wrinkles: a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study over a 12-week period. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017;10:267-273.
[xviii] Kawada C, et al. Ingested hyaluronan moisturizes dry skin. Nutrition Journal. 2014;13:70.