It is two years since I posted the series on the nutrients we need in our daily diet to maintain our health. Each week I will explore a different nutrient and and best sources to ensure that you receive sufficient amounts in your diet. I hope that even if you remember the series from two years ago that you will still find interesting.
The body has evolved over many thousands of years to process food precisely to extract the nutrients it contains. There is a delicate eco-system within our bodies that requires that precision when it comes to maintaining a healthy balance. The systems that process our food are unable to extract these essential nutrients from industrially produced foods, however many vitamins and minerals have been added during the production process.
When the body does not receive the nutrients in the right format, ill-health results including cancer, chronic auto-immune conditions such as arthritis, fertility issues and increased risk of infections.
Last week the nutritional focus was on Vitamin A and its role in the body with a focus on our eyesight and our immune system.
This week the role of Vitamin A in the health of our skin.
Some organs play a major role in our survival and others can be removed without impacting our general health in any significant way. As we have evolved, so an organ’s function may have changed to accommodate our modern environment, especially if their role is protective as in the case of the liver and the elimination of toxins. In this polluted world our body is under increasing stress and keeping the individual organs healthy ensures the general well-being of the entire body.
The skin – the largest organ of the body with a role to protect and remove waste.
In today’s post I am concentrating on our largest organ. Surprisingly it is not situated inside our bodies but outside. Our skin weighs 12% to 15% of our body weight and has three vital roles to play. It protects us from external contaminants, acts as a temperature and moisture controller and is essential in the elimination of waste products.
There is a complex structure to our skin that is invisible to the naked eye, and apart from slapping a bit of moisturiser on last thing at night, most of us are unaware of the crucial role that it plays in our general health.
As you can see from the diagram above, skin has a number of layers, each with a specific role to play such as in waste management and of maintaining healthy hair growth.
Most of us live in harsh environments at home and at work with air conditioning and central heating drying our skins out. As we get older and without the protection of our reproductive hormones our skin will naturally become much dryer.
One of the most crucial roles is as a barrier to external contaminants and it comes under increasing stress as we get older. Free radicals attack it from the outside from chemicals in household cleaners, cigarette smoke, pollution and ultra-violet light. From the inside it is the victim of a poor diet low in essential fatty acids, processed foods, food intolerances and toxins produced from an inefficient and under nourished operating system.
As we age we become more and more aware of the toll that life has played on the quality of our skin, particularly on the bits that are visible such as our face. We cannot change the skin type we were born with unfortunately, but we can help keep this external covering smoother and younger looking by eating the right foods and keeping it moisturised externally.
Some of the signs of skin under stress are acne, cold sores, eczema, psoriasis, hives, impetigo, warts and of course wrinkles.
Vitamin A deficiency and our skin.
We assume that developing dry and flaky skin in middle-age is a sign of the times. However, more often than not, it is a result of a vitamin deficiency, particularly of Vitamin A. The temptation is to plaster rich emollients onto the skin; there are very thriving cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries to prove it! Usually a doctor will prescribe you a heavy duty cream, rather than spend an hour discussing your diet and lifestyle, so this is something you need to look into yourself.
Skin conditions that may be the result of a Vitamin deficiency at any age are the following: Acne, eczema, psoriasis, premature ageing, dry and flaky heels and elbows and raised bumpy skin on the backs of arms and legs.
We need Vitamin A in particular to manage the sebaceous gland secretions that control the amount of oil that is released. Too much and you are likely to develop acne, too little psoriasis. As I mentioned the skin is the largest waste organ of the body, so if there are malformations in the surface area, this will inhibit this process as will having pores blocked with too much oil secretion.
Even with mature skin we need to consider if we are consuming sufficient Vitamin A. Especially as the trend in the last decade or so has been to reduce the very foods that supply this essential vitamin. Including offal such as liver and kidneys, cream, butter and eggs. Instead we have all been steered towards a low fat diet and encouraged to buy synthetic spreads containing more additives than goodness.
As children we were all given Cod Liver Oil and it is something that I recommend that we return to in adulthood. This provides not only Vitamin A but Vitamin D too which is another essential vitamin for our general health and immune system.
Best food sources for Vitamin A and Betacarotene.
VITAMIN A: RETINOL; It is a fat-soluble vitamin mainly found in Liver, Fish Liver oils, Butter, Cheese, Free Range Eggs, Oily Fish.
BETACAROTENE; Bestsources are carrots, Green leafy vegetables, Orange and Red coloured Vegetables. Particularly apricots, asparagus, broccoli, butter, cantaloupe melon, carrots, cashews, cheese, nectarines, peaches, peppers and spinach.
In addition to Vitamin A for our skin health, we also need to take a look at other foods that we might be withholding from our bodies.
We are essentially made up of water and protein. The skin needs sufficient protein in the diet and this does not mean eating 5 lbs of prime-rib every day. Protein is present in lots of plant foods as well and these would include all types of beans, sprouting seeds and beans, cheese, milk, whole grains. Live yoghurt is great as it also contains the friendly bacteria to keep your intestines healthy. If they are working efficiently then of course you will be eliminating a great many toxins.
Certain foods in our modern diet can cause acne such as too much sugar, bloating caused by drinking too much alcohol and eating refined carbohydrates that get stored as fat and increase the lumpy and uneven texture to our skin.
We need a certain amount of fat, not only for the B vitamins that it supplies but also because it assists in circulation and improves the suppleness and softness of skin. Vitamin B – complex is very important for skin tone and the B vitamins are also great for the immune system – keeping us clear of infections. B vitamins are found in proteins and also whole grains, peppers, jacket potatoes, asparagus and spinach.
Vitamin C is vital for wound healing and repair and maintenance of the blood vessels close to the surface of the skin and can be used in creams on the surface to help stabilise the collagen and help prevent fine lines appearing. It is water soluble and found in all fruit and vegetables with best sources being Blackcurrants, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cherries, grapefruits, guavas, kiwi fruit, lemons, parsley, peppers, rosehips, potatoes, tomatoes and watercress.
Vitamin E is definitely a great anti-oxidant and has an anti-inflammatory effect when applied directly to the skin. It helps keep the skin soft and smooth and has a mild sunscreen effect. It is fat soluble and found in nuts such as almonds and walnuts, sunflower seeds and their oil, whole grains like maize, egg yolks and leafy green vegetables like spinach. Also found in apples, bananas, broccoli, brown rice, carrots, lamb’s liver, onions, Sunflower oil, oily fish and shellfish.
ZINC: Is a a trace mineral that works with Vitamins A, C and E to keep our skin health. It is a component in the body’s ability to repair wounds, maintain fertility, synthesis protein, cell reproduction, maintain eyesight, act as an antioxidant and boost immunity. It can be used topically for skin conditions. It is essential for a functioning metabolism and hormone production such as testosterone. It is also needed for the production of stomach acid. Too much zinc will depress the copper levels in the body. The best food sources are seafood particularly oysters, pumpkinseeds, sesame seeds, wheat germ, egg yolks, black-eyed peas and tofu.
Zinc works like the vitamin C and E and is great for wound healing and in a cream is great for mild rashes and dry flaky skin.
©sallygeorginacronin Just Food for Health 2016
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