The path to beautiful skin just might be through your stomach.
"When the body is out of balance, one of the first places it reveals itself is the skin," says Dr. Ruthie Harper, a board-certified internist in Austin, Texas, who specializes in nutritional medicine. "If you're not getting the right nutrients, skin gets cheated out of what it needs for optimal health and beauty."
Learn to make the most of your body's skin-stomach connection with these 10 food fixes that give you a healthy, glowing complexion while warding off a host of skin conditions.
|Power Up With Probiotics|
When the stomach's natural flora gets out of whack because of stress, infection, or a course of antibiotics, you may experience digestive ills and skin problems such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, as well as dullness and wrinkles.
"If your gut's bacteria balance is unfavorable, the toxic bacteria can leak through microscopic holes in the wall of your gastrointestinal tract and travel throughout your body, including to your skin, causing inflammation that prevents the skin from functioning properly," says Dr. Frank Lipman, an integrative physician and director of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City.
The best way is to take a probiotic supplement (available at most health-food stores) or consume fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, buttermilk, miso, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Prebiotics are undigestible nutrients that stimulate the growth of good bacteria in your gut. To prevent problems, keep your digestive tract populated with good bacteria, which "coat the lining of your gut and help seal it so unwanted substances can no longer leak out and cause irritation," says Dr. Whitney Bowe, assistant medical director of cosmetic and laser services at Advanced Dermatology in Ossining, NY. Sources include whole grains, bananas, onions, and garlic.
|Sprinkle On Super Seeds|
The healthy fats known as omega-3s are like manna from heaven for dry skin. Not only are they anti-inflammatory, but they also moisturize skin so it stays soft and supple and fine lines are less noticeable.
Research shows that eating more omega-3-rich foods may even help protect against sun damage and skin cancer. Salmon, sardines, and mackerel are omega-3 powerhouses. For those who prefer not to eat fish, flaxseed and chia seeds offer a great alternative.
"Just 1 ground tablespoon of these seeds has six times the recommended daily amount of omega-3s," Dr. Harper says. Try them sprinkled on salads, blended in smoothies, and as a crunchy topping for oatmeal.
|Pick Purple Produce|
Free radicals—molecules with unpaired electrons that are produced when skin is exposed to UV rays or environmental pollutants, such as carbon monoxide or cigarette smoke—set off a chain reaction that can damage virtually any molecule in the body, including the important cellular structures in the skin.
One of the best ways to neutralize free radicals is eating foods that pack an antioxidant punch, such as berries, beans, and leafy greens. Purple, however, is the power color when it comes to your looks. "Purple potatoes, purple cabbage, purple cauliflower, raspberries, and blueberries are all rich in anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that also helps improve circulation," Dr. Harper says. "That increased blood flow helps bring skin the nutrients it needs to form new cells, collagen, and elastin."
|Skip The Sugar|
More than your waistline suffers when you eat too much sweet stuff.
"Sugar is poison for the skin," Dr. Lipman says. It is another cause of inflammation, and it also leads to glycation, a process that ages skin prematurely. Here's how: Sugar in your bloodstream binds to proteins and speeds the formation of advanced glycation end products (known as AGEs, coincidentally).
"AGEs stimulate enzymes in the skin that start chomping up collagen and elastic tissue," says Dr. Alan Dattner, a holistic dermatologist in New York City. The breakdown of collagen and elastin contributes directly to wrinkles, sagging, and uneven skin tone. No surprise, then, that a recent study in the Journal of the American Aging Association found that people with higher blood sugar levels were judged to look older than those with lower blood sugar.
Eliminating sugar -- in all its forms -- from your diet is the obvious, though somewhat extreme, solution. But even reducing your consumption by limiting it to the sugars contained in fruit, for example, can help, Dr. Dattner says. How you consume sugar is also important. Eating an Oreo a day for a week isn't as bad as polishing off an entire sleeve at once, because taking in large quantities of sugar at a time throws insulin levels out of whack.
|Cook Some Curry|
"Turmeric, also called curcumin, is a staple of many curries and helps reduce skin irritation." Dr. Harper says. A recent study reported that turmeric supplementation (oral or topical) increases photo protection in skin, so add this skin-savvy spice, found in curry powder, to your diet and your supplement plan to prevent further sun damage.
|Spice It Up|
Perk up your meals with inflammation-fighting spices. Ginger and cinnamon, both chock full of antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce facial puffiness (and all-over bloat!) while working to reduce skin inflammation on the surface.
Click here for recipes containing both super spices.
Long regarded as a topic without real evidence, two recent studies in the European Journal of Dermatology and the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology finally confirm there is a real link between your diet and acne -- especially when dairy is involved.
There are 60-some hormones in the average glass of milk (organic or not!) and some of those androgens (like testosterone) increase sebum production and feed acne flair ups. What's more, dairy stimulates insulin production, which is known to cause pimples. If you are going to skip dairy, be sure to supplement your diet with other sources of calcium, vitamin D, and other important nutrients found in milk.
Kimberly Snyder, a Los Angeles nutritionist and author of The Beauty Detox Solution, says she sees a big improvement in her clients' skin and hair when they eat more alkaline-forming foods.
"If your body is too acidic, which can happen when your diet is unbalanced, it leaches the alkaline minerals, such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium," she says. This slows down your body's natural detox functions, which can help reduce skin irritation and flush toxins from your skin.
Reach for foods such as parsley, almonds, kale, pears, lemons, and apples which are known to help form alkaline in the body.
|Sip Some Sun Protection|
Another reason to up your herbal intake: recent research in Journal of Alternative and Contemporary Therapies confirms Asian ginseng, a root that has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, reduces the amount of damage caused by UV light and increase the amount of exposure needed to result in a sunburn when taken orally or topically. Don't be mistaken—you still need sunscreen. Use this herbal remedy to help your sun protection routine pack a bigger punch.
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