Beauty > Skin Deep: Plant Based Diets for Vibrant Skin and Overall Health- Larisa Lehmer, MD

Did you know that what you eat can have dramatic effects on how your skin looks and functions? See how you can get clear, glowing, and smooth skin by making some key dietary changes.
Acne affects 85% of teenagers in industrialized nations across the globe, but it is almost non-existent in places like Okinawa and rural Africa where people still practice a pre-modern diet centered on whole plant foods . While genetics do play a role, environmental factors are way more powerful when it comes to acne. When individuals from acne-free zones move to cities and adopt a standard, “westernized” diet full of processed and high-fat foods, they develop acne at the same high rates as their metropolitan-born peers. Foods that are especially harmful to the skin are: dairy, animal proteins, added oils (olive oil, vegetable oil, butter, etc.), and saturated fat (the largest dietary source of saturated fat is meat and dairy). Foods that help: green tea, barberries, hydration with water, and a whole-food, low-fat, plant-based diet rich in antioxidants. Foods that inflame acne, most notably dairy, do so by increasing the amount of circulating steroid sex hormones and increasing the the activity of an enzyme called TOR (target of rapamycin) which results in larger, more productive sebaceous glands. TOR ramps up cell growth and proliferation and has been shown to be highly elevated in breast and prostate cancers – therefore a whole-food plant-based diet also greatly reduces cancer risk.
What we eat and how active we are is evident in our skin tone. An even, rosy-glow is associated with physical fitness but is absent in most individuals with type II diabetes and hypertension, because their circulation is impaired. When people were instructed to adjust various color values of photographs until the facial photographs shown appeared the healthiest, both men and women selected a “golden glow” with increased yellow tones. This effect is independent of a sun-tan as those who had to choose rated the lighter but yellower shades as more attractive in otherwise identical photographs. Golden shades are attractive because they signal a healthy diet rich in carotenoids – the vibrant antioxidant-pigments found in dark leafy greens and orange-yellow vegetables. In another experiment, college students who increased their fruit and vegetable intake from 3 to the recommended 9 servings a day for 6 weeks were able to significantly improve their skin tone. Most people think “tan” when they hear of skin with a “golden glow,” but sun-tanning increases the risk for skin cancer and causes premature ageing, so it is best to rely on our greens for a healthy glow from the inside-out!
A higher intake of green and yellow vegetables has been associated with decreased facial wrinkling, and all it takes is eating 2 or more servings of dark leafy greens or orange/yellow veggies a day. In terms of fruits, prunes and apples were shown to be especially beneficial. Green tea as a beverage and as an extract applied topically suppresses matrix metalloproteinases, the enzymes responsible for breaking down collagen, which puts the breaks on the skin’s natural ageing processes. Too much caffeine can increase the appearance of fine lines by its drying and dehydrating effect on the skin. Likewise, alcohol consumption should be minimized as it uses up the antioxidants available to repair against sunburn and other harmful ageing effects of UV radiation. However, including a tablespoon of ground flaxseed in your daily oatmeal gives a 1-2-punch to fight off rough and dry skin from within.

1 Stephen ID, Law Smith MJ, Stirrat MR, Perrett DI. Facial Skin Coloration Affects Perceived Health of Human Faces. Int J Primatol. 2009;3 2 Whitehead RD, Re D, Xiao D, Ozakinci G, Perrett DI. You are what you eat: within-subject increases in fruit and vegetable consumption confer beneficial skin-color changes. PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e32988.

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