Do you need supplements for your skin? Dr Johanna Ward explains why a well balanced diet isn’t enough these days.
The British public spend around £700 million on dietary vitamins and supplements each year, so Brits clearly love supplements. But do they really work or can we get all of the nutrients we need for great skin from a well balanced diet? I will endeavour to answer these questions in this blog and address how certain supplements can benefit your skin and give you a metabolic tune up.
A BIT OF THE SCIENCE
All cells in our bodies need a few vital things to survive: oxygen, glucose, water, amino acids, nutrients, a blood supply and a waste removal process. Without oxygen, nutrients and a waste removal process cells do not survive. Vitamins and minerals form part of the cell’s vital nutrients and allow cells to function, to communicate, to create (eg calcium for bone), to act as co-factors which help regulate cell membrane function (magnesium), stabilise DNA (magnesium & zinc), act as antioxidants (selenium) and help fortify (Vitamin C & Vitamin A).
Without nutrients cells cannot function properly and begin to decline. Vitamins and minerals are vital for cells to function optimally. But can we get them all through a balanced diet or do we need to supplement?
In a perfect world no one would need to use supplements. But the modern world we live in is far from perfect.
HERE’S WHY: Modern life is fast-paced, stressful and on the run. The toxins and pollutants that we are exposed to everyday has meant that we are ageing prematurely and our tissues are being damaged by processes such as free radical oxidisation. Add to this the chronic stress which many of us live with and the poor nutritional choices that we make and its no surprise that many of us many choose to super boost our health with specific supplements.
A balanced, healthy, low sugar, low carbohydrate diet is extremely important for overall wellbeing. However, what most people don’t realise is that the nutrient quality in modern day foods has diminished significantly. The soil we use to grow our crops is nutrient depleted due to its high turnover, plants are treated with chemicals and pesticides so they no longer have to nourish themselves, animals and livestock are artificially fattened, often given hormones and cooped up without the ability to roam free on nutrient rich pastures.
Then there is the refinement process. Foods are so over processed now that lots of nutrients are lost en route. Ironically many foods nowadays are ‘enriched’ because they are so impoverished. ‘Fresh’ fruits and vegetables often spend weeks on ships and in cargo coming to us, each day losing their vital nutrients. Then the way we cook our foods often blasts away the final bit of nourishment. For example, if you were to boil your vegetables for 10 minutes you are better off drinking the juice left in the saucepan than you are eating the veg.. Scary isn’t it?!
Add to this the hectic, stressful lives that we all lead with erratic eating & drinking (or excess drinking) and heavy toxin exposure and its easy all of a sudden to see that most people may have one or more vitamin, mineral or omega deficiencies.
I am a passionate believer in the benefit of supplements when taken intelligently and with scientific understanding.
Every vitamin, mineral and fatty acid has different benefits for the skin. I’ve broken it down to give you an easy-reading guide on which does what for your skin.
Somewhere along the process of evolution humans (along with guinea pigs & fruit bats) lost their ability to make Vitamin C. It therefore needs to be taken daily and sufficiently in the diet. Vitamin C is the golden child of vitamins and the one we know the best. It is a key vitamin for anti-ageing and skin health because it works as an antioxidant to reduce free radicals and is also needed for healthy collagen production.
Vitamin C helps simultaneously reduce the damage caused by sunlight, smoke and environmental pollution. Its non skin benefits are enormous too: it’s essential for good immune function, endothelial protection, cardiac health, blood pressure stabilisation and for cancer prevention.
Vitamin C is one of the safest and most effective supplements you can take. Some 20% of the population is Vitamin C deficient. If you are stressed, ill or doing lots of work/travel then boosting your vitamin C will add to your stamina, performance and immune support.
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin so any excess consumed will be excreted in the urine. Daily consumption of vitamin C in the diet is a must. Foods rich in Vitamin C are kiwis, citrus fruits, grapes and capsicums. If you can’t consume enough Vitamin C then a supplement can help boost levels and ensure that your daily essential intake is being met. Poor Vitamin C levels will result in dry skin, dry hair, easy bruising, poor wound healing and poor collagen function.
I advise a daily intake of up to at least 500mg per day of Vitamin C in supplements (up to 2g). This is above the NRV but remember NRV’s are set as the minimum requirement to prevent disease. They are not set at the optimal level to maintain and promote health which is why it is perfectly safe to consume levels above the NRV. This is not the case for all vitamins but is certainly the case for Vitamin C.
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Vitamin D is one of the most important supplements to take. Basically if you don’t live near the equator you will not be getting enough. Also known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D aids calcium absorption and helps with skin problems such as psoriasis. It’s also another vitamin that enhances collagen production and skin elasticity. Vitamin D exists in very few foods and is mainly synthesised in the presence of sunlight.
Around 60% of people in the UK are Vitamin D deficient during the long winter months so a supplement is hugely beneficial. Vitamin D is also cardio-protective, anti-inflammatory and protects against degenerative disease and cancer. Public Health England has advised that all UK based adults and children take a daily Vitamin D supplement, at least during the winter months (September to April).
Most Doctors nowadays agree that NRV levels of Vitamin D are hopelessly low and suggest supplementing in higher doses e.g.. 1000 – 4000IU per day. The best time to take Vitamin D is in the morning and the best form to take is D3 because its the most bioavailable form.
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Research shows that Vitamin E works, rather like Vitamin C, to reduce the effects of the sun on the skin through its potent antioxidant action. Recent studies have shown that taking 400IU of Vitamin E reduced the risk of sun damage and the production of cancer causing cells. Foods rich in Vitamin E are avocado, brazil nuts and oily fish.
Vitamin A works to support growth and bone development, vision, reproduction and development and maintenance of skin tissue. If your Vitamin A levels are low you will see it in your skin – it will be dry and flaky. Optimising Vitamin A can have a huge benefit on the skin. Vitamin A is fat soluble so can be stored in the body and can accumulate. It is important to not take too much Vitamin A over a long period of time. Take it with meals because it is fat soluble.
Topical Vitamin A can also be applied to the skin with great benefit. It is often used to treat acne and acne scarring and it is also associated with the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles. It is the wonder vitamin of dermatology and anti-ageing. It is often found in topical skincare products by the name of retinol. The strongest form is called Retin A or retinoic acid and is only available on prescription.
Topical Vitamin A can make you photosensitive so make sure you use a daily sunscreen.
Biotin (B7) is the single most important Vitamin B for the skin. Biotin forms the basis of skin, nail and hair cells and deficiency (even mild) can cause dermatitis and hair loss. Bananas, eggs and rice all contain biotin. Biotin is a water soluble vitamin so it’s very difficult to take too much as any excess will be excreted in the urine. I recommend a daily intake of at least 50mcg of Biotin.
VITAMIN B COMPLEX
I recommend Vitamin B complexes (the 8 Vitamin B’s) to my patients when they have acne. Vitamin B’s can help eliminate bacteria in acne and helps to balance out testosterone levels. Vitamin B deficiency can also cause acne so making sure your body receives enough Vitamin B’s can help prevent and treat acne.Vitamin B’s can also help those with stress induced breakouts because they help address adrenal gland imbalance.
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Selenium is a powerhouse of an antioxidant that can reduce inflammation and erythema (redness) of the skin by limiting free radical damage. The amount of Selenium in foods is reliant on the soil that plants are grown in and these days this is very variable. Selenium is also a good mineral for acne sufferers to supplement. It is found commonly in meats, wholegrain cereals, garlic, eggs and seafoods. 26% of UK men & boys are selenium deficient and 45% of UK women & girls are selenium deficient. Anyone on a strict diet eg. gluten free or vegan/vegetarian may not get enough selenium. A supplement can easily correct this.
Zinc is an essential mineral associated with clearer skin and the reduction of acne. Zinc helps the skin by reducing oil production. It is a cofactor for over 300 cellular processes. It encourages skin cell renewal and aids skin healing and repair. There are no body stores of zinc so it needs to be taken daily in the diet or as a supplement. Ideal food sources are oysters, lean meat and poultry. It is an ideal mineral to take as a supplement if you eat meat infrequently or are vegetarian or vegan.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that helps maintain healthy membranes and is excellent for good brain, heart and skin function. In particular it helps dry/inflamed skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis as it helps repair the skin’s barrier function. It is an essential fatty acid. This means that we need to take in our diet daily as the body cannot make it.
Around 77% of UK adults are deficient in Omega 3 and would benefit from an Omega supplement or eating more oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and anchovies. In the USA Omega 3 deficiency is though to be the 7th commonest cause of death and accounts for 100,000 preventable deaths per year.
There is now compelling evidence that Omega supplements are one of the single most important supplements we can take. I recommend to my patients to try and take at least 500mg of Omega 3 fish oil a day. If you are vegetarian then the best alternative is flaxseed oil and linseed oil or you could try an Omega 3 from algae. Take with meals for best absorption.
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