The nutraceuticals market is on the rise as more and more people realise the benefits of an inside-out approach to skin health. Nutritionist Kim Pearson explores this growing trend
There is increasing awareness of the relationship between our inner health and outer beauty. The markets for both cosmetic procedures and nutritional supplements have continued to grow considerably in recent years, with more nutrition products than ever focused on improving the way we look.
Our dietary choices have a dramatic impact on our skin’s health and ageing processes. Take oxidative damage; it’s one of the main reasons that smokers age significantly faster than non-smokers. Smoking creates free radicals, unstable molecules that cause damage to cells and speed up the ageing process.
Foods such as sugars, refined carbohydrates, and fried and burnt foods also create damaging free radicals. However, many vegetables are rich in antioxidants, beneficial nutrients that can help combat the effects of free radicals and have a noticeably positive effect on skin health and age.
Sugar – the demon of the moment – is especially damaging to the skin. Sugar molecules bind to the skins collagen in a process called glycation, creating advanced glycation end-products, which cause stiffening, weakening and noticeable ageing of the skin.
Consuming a low glycemic diet is key in ageing healthily. Oxidation, glycation and certain foods also contribute to excess inflammation and, while inflammation is an important immune reaction, excess systemic inflammation accelerates the ageing process.
Certain nutrients are essential for skin health. Collagen and elastin are protein structures, and therefore an optimal intake of dietary protein is important for maintaining a healthy skin structure. Omega 3 essential fats and micronutrients, including vitamins A, B, C, D, E and zinc, to name just a few, are necessary for the structure and function of the skin.
Sugar – the demon of the moment – is especially damaging to the skin
While a nutritious diet is of fundamental importance, nutraceuticals can help provide optimal levels of nutrients required for healthy skin function. Among the most marketed skin nutrition products are oral collagen drinks. There is evidence from animal studies to support claims that collagen drinks can increase levels of collagen in the skin.
However, collagen is a form of protein and is broken down into amino acids in the same way as any other source of dietary protein. Often people who increase their protein intake as part of their dietary strategy, report that they see improvements in skin quality as a result.
At around £100 per month, collagen supplements aren’t cheap and most of them lack robust human studies to prove they are more effective at supporting skin collagen than other easily digested sources of dietary protein.
In addition to consuming a diet rich in sources of antioxidants, namely vegetables and low-sugar fruits, research shows that oral supplementation can be beneficial. Green tea catechins, anthocyanins from dark berries, citrus bioflavonoids, carotenoids such as lycopene and lutein from tomatoes, resveratrol from red wine and genistein from soy can offer potent protection in the skin.
As well as being one of the most powerful antioxidant nutrients, vitamin C is also essential for the production of collagen. Humans cannot synthesise their own vitamin C and so we are reliant on good dietary sources and supplementation to provide us with an optimal intake.
Omega 3 essential fats are not widely available in the diet. Aside from oily fish and some types of nuts and seeds, there are few good sources of this essential nutrient. A quality fish oil supplement can combat inflammation and dry skin, helping maintain a healthy, supple complexion.
Multi-nutrient combinations exist which provide a variety of skin nutrients. The quality of such supplements varies considerably so ensure you opt for a good quality product containing therapeutic levels of nutrients in bioavailable forms.