Doctor’s Tip: How to keep your skin healthy
Many people are in denial about what their arteries look like, but it’s hard to be in denial about what your skin looks like.
Americans spend billions of dollars every year on anti-aging skin products. Botox injections and cosmetic plastic surgery account for billions more. However, aging of our skin is not caused by deficiency of anti-aging skin creams. Today’s column will discuss some factors you need to be aware of if you want to have healthy, young-looking skin:
First of all, don’t smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes damage the blood supply to your skin (as well as other parts of your body). They also damage collagen and elastin in your skin, making it saggy.
Second, according to Dr. Michael Greger’s website nutritionfacts.org, alcohol, especially in large quantities, contributes to skin aging. This is because breakdown products of alcohol decrease carotenoid antioxidants in the skin, which lowers the threshold for sunburn and increases the risk of skin cancer.
Third, ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning booths leads to premature aging including wrinkling; sagging; and pigmented areas called sun, age or liver spots. UV exposure also contributes to precancerous rough, red spots called actinic keratoses; to basal cell cancer; to squamous cell cancer; and to the often-deadly skin cancer melanoma.
We all like being out in the sun, but we should cover up with long-sleeved sun-protective clothing and a broad-brimmed hat. Apply a broad-spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays), high SPF sunscreen to the parts of your body you can’t cover up, such as the back of your hands and your lower face.
The safest and best sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium, which physically block the sun versus sunscreens with chemicals that can be absorbed and that could possibly cause harm. Remember, suntanned skin is sun-damaged skin. In Japan, where light, unblotched skin is prized, women wear gloves and use umbrellas when they’re out in the sun, and as they age they maintain youthful-looking skin.
Fourth, what you eat affects your skin. Free radicals and oxidation contribute to skin aging and skin cancer. Therefore, it is important to eat food with lots of antioxidants and other cancer-fighting phytonutrients (phyto refers to plants). These nutrients are found only in unprocessed plant foods, including vegetables, legumes, fruit and whole grains.
Studies have shown that people who are plant-based are protected from sun damage compared to people who eat mainly animal products. Their immune system is optimal, skin aging is slowed and they are at lower risk for actinic keratoses and skin cancer including melanoma. And plant-based nutrition has been shown to reverse early skin cancer, including melanoma in some cases.
Acne seems to be a disease associated with the Western diet, according to experts such as Greger and Dr. Joel Fuhrman. For example, they say that it is essentially nonexistent in Okinawa and other plant-based parts of the world. In the U.S. some 85 percent of teenagers are afflicted with acne, which often persists into their third decade.
Recent studies show a clear correlation between acne and dairy products. A large percentage of milk comes from pregnant cows, and the link with acne appears to be due to hormones in cows’ milk. Skim milk is the worst, because it has the highest estrogen content.
The most antioxidant-packed fruit is dried barberries, which can be found in Middle Eastern markets. One teaspoon three times a day for a month resulted in a 43 percent decrease in acne in one study.
Many products marketed as anti-aging are of questionable benefit. However, antioxidant products such as L’dara, applied regularly to the skin, can reduce precancerous actinic keratoses and other signs of skin aging. But it’s best to also get your skin antioxidants from the inside out, by eating antioxidant-containing food. There is a good, plant-based cookbook called “Oh She Glows,” which refers to glowing from the inside out. Healthy, “glowing” skin has a slightly pinkish and yellowish hue, which means it has an abundance of carotenoid antioxidants.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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