Quest Vitamins LTD,
Our skin is the largest organ of the body and serves to protect us from the ravages of the external environment. Its main function is as a mechanical barrier, shielding the body from damaging UV light and invasion from unwanted micro-organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. In addition, it is required for maintenance of body structure (i.e keeping all the organs inside) regulation of body temperature, waste disposal (via sweating), preventing dehydration and is the site of Vitamin D synthesis.
The skin is comprised of millions of cells, surrounding countless nerve endings which can sense Pain, heat, cold and pressure, as well as telling us when we have been pricked, pinched, punched, caressed, tickled or massaged. The skin also expresses the problems within bodies such as food sensitivities, Stress and tiredness (for example, bags under the Eyes).
The outermost layer of skin (the epidermis) is actually composed of dead skin cells which are being continually shed and replaced. The dermis refers to the inner layer of skin, composed of connective tissue and contains the sweat glands, sebaceous glands (which produce the oily liquid called sebum) and hair follicles. It is this inner layer of skin that requires care and protection as the years go on - this can be best achieved by ensuring an adequate daily intake of essential nutrients.
There are many conditions affecting the skin, the most common being (1):
Acne (acne vulgaris)
Treating acne can be extremely difficult as it is often caused by a number of interacting factors. Antibiotics are routinely prescribed for the condition; however, long-term use encourages the outgrowth of yeast Infections such as Candida albicans, which can further exacerbate the symptoms. Consequently, acne sufferers taking broad spectrum antibiotics are advised to take a supplement providing L.acidophilus, a type of friendly bacteria which helps to keep yeast infections at bay.
Zinc (15-30mg daily) has been found to reduce the severity of acne when taken over a 3 month period (8). Zinc may also play an important role in the healing of scar tissue and may be useful at limiting the ‘pitting’ associated with condition.
Eczema (atopic and seborrhoeic)
Eczema is also a common skin condition affecting both young and old. It is characterised by Inflammation to the skin which causes intense Itching frequently resulting in blistering and scaly weepy patches. Atopic eczema is the most common form, affecting up to 20% of the population and may be accompanied by other allergic conditions such as Asthma and Hay Fever. Seborrhoeic eczema on the other hand, tends to affect the scalp, eyelids, nose and lips.
Treatment for eczema usually involves corticosteroids, topical ointments in combination with antihistamines. However, the effectiveness of these treatments varies from person to person and they are often accompanied by unwanted side effects. Consequently, many sufferers turn to alternative therapies such as regular supplementation with Evening Primrose Oil (EPO).
EPO is a rich source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid which is converted by the body into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins (hormone-like substances). Suggested intakes are 0.5-2g for children and 2-4g for adults.
To help maintain healthy skin drinking plenty of water and eating 5 to 9 portions of fresh fruits and vegetables is to be encouraged. Refined carbohydrates should be eliminated together with foods high in saturated fat (especially those containing trans-fatty acids) and sweets (2).
Vitamin A is vital for skin health, and deficiencies may cause the skin to be dry or make the severity of certain skin conditions worse. Vitamin C also plays a fundamental role in the health of the skin as it is essential for the formation of collagen (a protein that gives skin its firmness). Good intakes can be achieved from most fruit and vegetables, especially blackcurrants, green peppers and Brussels sprouts (3). In addition, dietary supplements are a readily available and reliable source of these essential nutrients.
Vitamin E is found in many skin care preparations, as it promotes Wound healing and has valuable anti-scarring properties which have been utilised by dermatologists for a variety of skin complaints. Good sources of vitamin E can be found in Wheatgerm and safflower oil, in addition to natural source vitamin E in oral capsule format (3).
Fatty acid deficiency may cause loss of fluidity within and increase water loss from the skin, leaving it dry and dehydrated. This can be easily remedied by increasing the daily intake of Essential Fatty Acids such as those found in Fish Oil (omega-3) and Evening Primrose Oil (omega-6) (4).
Herbal remedies may be suggested for certain skin conditions - for example Echinacea - because of its anti-bacterial properties and its role in wound healing (5-6). Additionally, recent research has indicated that St. John’s wort possesses potent anti-bacterial properties against Staphylococcus aureus – a type of bacteria implicated in a number of skin Infections (7). Finally, Milk Thistle may be suggested due to its detoxifying function in the body (7).
Stress and Anxiety may aggravate skin conditions. Take time out to relax by listening to relaxation tapes, meditating, yoga or burning essential oils such as lavender and geranium. In addition, pent-up tension can be relieved by taking regular exercise such as brisk walking or participating in a competitive sport such as rugby, football or badminton.
Whilst good nutrition may help with many skin complaints, there are occasions when it is a good idea to seek the advice of a medical professional. For example, if an unexplained growth appears on the skin, or a freckle or mole changes its shape or colour.
1. Skin Conditions, Hasnain Walji. The Kian Press. 1997.