The idea that the health of the skin reflects the health of the whole body is a concept from the older traditional oriental medicines in China and Asia. When a person is healthy, they are said to have radiant health. In the west, we say a person who is healthy has glowing health, another reference to the skin.
The skin is the largest organ system in the human body accounting for 16 percent of total body weight and covering sixteen to twenty-two square feet of surface area. Our skin separates and informs us with regard to our surroundings serving to waterproof, cushion and protect the deeper tissues, excrete wastes and regulate temperature. In humans, the skin additionally provides vitamin D synthesis. Our skin is also the attachment site for sensory receptors to detect pain, sensation, pressure and temperature. The skin serves both neuro-sensory and metabolic functions.
Unlike other animals, we don’t have a protective covering for our skin. We have to use our brains to protect the skin from damage and to maintain its healthfulness. Besides the obvious way to protect the skin from damage such as avoiding its exposure to excessive sun, cold or other environmental influences; our eating and nutrition is the number one factor that keeps our skin healthy.
Several nutrients are crucial for skin health. The skin is made up of a large percentage of fats. Because of this the fat-soluble vitamins, vitamins A, D, E and K, are important for the health of the skin. Rough, dry and prematurely aged skin is a telltale sign of vitamin A deficiency, which often first manifests as rough, raised skin on the back of the arms. Vitamin A is critical to the repair process, including repair from sun burn and damage from toxins. Vitamin A increases the thickness of the epidermis, especially the granular layer (the portion of the epidermis that produces horn cells).
Severe acne is found in those with low levels of vitamin A in the blood.1 The standard conventional treatment for acne is Accutane, a synthetic form of vitamin A, but cod liver oil and other vitamin A-rich foods can work just as well, without the side effects, such as joint pain, hair loss, low energy, depression and aggressive behavior.
Vitamin D is a major contributor in the process of skin cell metabolism and growth, which may explain why skin texture improves after a sunbath. Green Pastures Blue Ice Fermented Cod Oil is the last remaining natural cod oil produced in the world. All other cod liver oils remove the vitamin D complex and add only D3 to the cod liver oil. Fermented cod oil is a good source of D as well as A.
Vitamin D or A in supplements won’t tremendously benefit a person unless they are whole foods concentrates. The vitamins are part of complexes. There are 10 types of D produced by your body from the sun and in vitamin D rich foods.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can reduce the effects of sun exposure on the skin, as well as the effects of dangerous free radicals. Deficiency of vitamin E is also associated with acne.
Collagen and elastin are two of the components of skin that give it firmness and elasticity. As skin ages, it loses both collagen and elastin, and its youthful appearance along with them. It is found that elastin is calcified due to the lack of Vitamin K2 activated matrix-GLA protein. Vitamin K2 could help maintain youthful skin activating Matrix-GLA and in turn preventing calcification of elastin.
The water-soluble vitamins also play important roles in the health of the skin, particularly vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B12 and vitamin C.
Vitamin A and D are best derived from animal sources, such as fatty fish, organ meats, eggs and other foods as well as the cod oil mentioned above.
Vitamin E is in whole grains, moderate amounts of nuts and seeds, butter from grass fed animals and in concentrated doses in high quality wheat germ and wheat germ oil.
Vitamin K2 is in fermented sauerkraut, grass fed dairy products, organ meats and other foods.
Other nutrients are best derived from a full spectrum macrobiotic dietary approach using natural vegetable and animal foods.
Magnesium deficiency stimulates the release of histamine from the mast cells. As a result, the person becomes prone to allergies including eczema. In order to metabolize one molecule of glucose, we need at least twenty-eight molecules of magnesium; thus, eating large amounts sugar and refined carbohydrates can have detrimental effects on the skin. Nuts, whole grains, bone broths and unrefined salt are our best sources of magnesium.
Other minerals that play key roles for skin health include zinc, iron and selenium. Red meat, liver, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds and seafood are our best sources of these vital minerals.
Healthy skin depends on complete protein from animal products. In fact, the detrimental effects of a vegetarian diet often first show up as sallow, unhealthy looking skin. Vegetarians need to eat more grass-fed dairy products and eggs. Vegans can work on getting extra protein from concentrated protein powders such as pea or rice protein added to foods or drinks.
Incredibly important to skin health are the sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine. Methionine is an essential amino acid; while cysteine is not. Adequate intake of both sulfur-containing amino acids is very important to the health of connective tissue, joints, hair, skin and nails. These amino acids are also utilized by the body in detoxification reactions, aiding the body to excrete heavy metals and keeping the skin clear. Cysteine is found in the protein called beta-keratin which is the main protein in nails, skin as well as hair. Not only is it important to collagen production but also helps in the skin’s elasticity and texture. The best sources of these proteins are meat (especially pork), eggs and dairy products.
Two other proteins that support skin health are proline and glycine, the two proteins that make up gelatin. These two proteins are critical for building healthy cartilage, as well as for detoxification. Bone broths and gelatin powders from grass fed animals supply these proteins.
The last element of skin health is the quality of the fats that you eat. Researchers have found that with a diet high in polyunsaturated oils (more than 10 percent), at least 78 percent of people showed marked signs of premature aging of the facial skin, with some appearing more than twenty years older than they were. When this group was compared to an almost equal number who made no special effort to consume polyunsaturates, the difference was profound. Only 18 percent of the latter group were judged to have outward physical signs of premature aging. In other words, there were more than four times as many people who looked markedly older than they really were among those who deliberately included large quantities of polyunsaturated oils in the diet. It is best to limit seed oils and focus on monounsaturated fats such as coconut oil, butter and olive oil to improve your skin. 2
As final note, traditional oriental medicines linked skin health to the colon, lungs and kidneys. In traditional oriental medicine, healthy looking skin is seen as a sign that the body’s energy system is highly functional. In modern terms, this translates to a healthy functioning metabolism. Keeping these organs and the entire metabolism healthy by a proper well-balanced natural diet and lifestyle as well as food derived from food concentrates and in particular tonic herbs is key.
- Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. Volume 31, Issue 3, pages 430–434, May 2006
- The Cholesterol Controversy, Edward R. Pinckney, MD and Cathey Pinckney, pp 44-46, Sherbourne Press, Los Angeles, 1973.