There is nothing like a clear sunny day, whether its spring, summer, fall or even winter. A bright sunshiny day brings a healthy feeling, in part because it is associated with high barometric pressures. But too often we hear that the sun is bad. The only bad thing about the sun is when your body is not healthy enough to benefit from it, or when you abuse it. The fact is your skin was made for the sun.
Of course, too much sun can be harmful, such as sunning for hours with just a bathing suit, or less. But if you spend a lot of time outdoors, you are doing what your body was made to do.
Its only when you dont follow healthy dietary habits that you become unnaturally vulnerable to sun damage and disease. Avoiding sunburn at any age, but especially early in life, is a key to preventing skin cancers later in life especially melanoma, perhaps the most serious form of skin cancer. Unfortunately, studies show that significant numbers of children still experience sunburn.
While the sun gives us nutrients and other benefits, it can also use up nutrients. Consider that sunlight helps control stress, sunlight on the body and its stimulation through the eyes actually influences the adrenal stress hormones can be very therapeutic, and prevent and treat the common problem of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). And throughout the year, the sun hitting your skin produces natural vitamin D. Interestingly; one cannot overdose on natural vitamin D from the sun, even with day-after-day exposure, where as synthetic vitamin D supplements can easily cause vitamin D toxicity.
Sun exposure causes reductions in Vitamins A & C, folic acid, Vitamin E and lycopene, and changes the oils within your skin's cells. If your intake of these nutrients is low, sun exposure can be a negative influence on your health, including reduced immune function. These nutritional factors are discussed below.
The fact that sun causes skin aging, skin cancer, and cataracts. That, and more, is all true. But the problem isn't the sun it's the way your body reacts to the sun. The rates of skin cancer, for example, are rising 7 percent per year and doubling every decade. But humans have been living in the sun since the beginning. So the problem isn't that we're in the sun more. If that were true we wouldn't be seeing increases in vitamin D deficient rickets and bone calcium problems in the elderly. The real problem is that most people no longer consume natural chemo-protective agents in the diet.
Here are some of the key issues to consider:
Limonene is an oily phytonutrient prevalent in the skins of citrus fruit. It has been shown to successfully prevent and treat skin cancer. Unfortunately, most people drink citrus juice but toss the skin, which contains most of the limonene, as well as many other nutrients. Other sources of limonene include cherries, spearmint and peppermint, caraway and dill. It's no coincidence that these plants often grow in southern climates where the sun is strongest.
Human skin normally contains oils stored in the cell walls, and may be susceptible to the sun's ionising radiation. Consider when you heat cooking oil on your stove it can easily burn with too much heat. What types of oils are stored in your skin? If they're mostly omega-6 polyunsaturated oils, they're vulnerable to chemical breakdown by the sun's rays and your risk of skin damage and disease is higher. These situations worsened if your vitamin E levels are not adequate. The oil in your skin is directly related to what's in your diet. Omega-3 & Omega-6 oils such, as fish and flaxseed oils are vital for healthy skin due to their powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
A healthy diet high in vegetables and some fruits is also high in natural antioxidants and other phytonutrients. These nutrients are vital in normal environmental adaptation, especially to the sun's rays. They not only protect the skin from cancer, but also protect the eyes from the sun's rays, which can make you susceptible to cataracts. Antioxidants include vitamins C and E, the carotenoids, selenium and others found in yellow, orange, purple and other vegetables.
Certain phyto-nutrients, such as lycopene, found in tomato products and green tea, are also important for the skin during sun exposure.
Raw and cooked leafy vegetables contain folic acid, another key nutrient important for sunny days. Folic acid in its natural state (virtually all folic acid supplements are synthetic) is important because sun exposure reduces folic acid in the body. There are thousands of other reactions in the body that deplete folic acid, and it's normally replaced through a healthy diet.
If you've ever had too much sun, you know inflammation is a painful part of the process. Chronic inflammation is an early condition of skin cancer development. This is an extensive topic discussed in my lectures, newsletters and on our web site.
Some drugs can significantly increase your sensitivity to the sun. These include NSAIDs, certain antibiotics and anti fungals, diuretics, various psychiatric drugs, and many others.
Still more food for thought....
Over the past few years it has not been possible to open a magazine, watch a health program on the television or even read a newspaper without being bombarded with features about the benefits of antioxidants.
They have been linked to just about every condition from heart disease to premature wrinkling, but how many of us actually know what antioxidants are and how they benefit us?
This article aims to give a general introduction to antioxidants and the health benefits that they may give.
What are antioxidants?
Before we can begin to understand what an antioxidant is we have to understand what free radicals are. Free radicals are substances, which are generated by the body in the natural course of metabolism or everyday fife. These free radicals are missing one electron and as they try to gain this missing electron they can sometimes cause serious damage to cell walls, certain cell structures and genetic material. If a large number of free radicals are produced over a long period of time it has been postulated that this may lead to a variety of diseases. Conditions that have been linked to free radical damage include cancer, heart disease and arthritis.
Antioxidants work by mopping up these rogue molecules. They are able to react with the free radical and stop any damage being caused. The body naturally produces its own antioxidant enzymes which are able to balance the effect of the free radicals but it is when too many free radicals are produced for these enzymes to deal with that problems can occur. Many factors can increase the oxidative stress on the body. These include cigarette smoke, alcohol, and UV rays, pollution, fried or burned food as well as the body's own metabolism. People, who have high levels of exposure to any of these things e.g, smokers may be particularly interested in increasing their intake of antioxidants.
The key antioxidant nutrients
Antioxidants exist primarily as vitamins and minerals and other food compounds. Some minerals are important for antioxidant activity because they are key components of the body's antioxidant systems. These minerals include in particular zinc, magnesium and copper.
While many dietary components may have antioxidant properties there are three substances that deserve particular mention: these are vitamin C, vitamin E and the carotenoids.
Vitamin C has many well-established health benefits including:
- the formation of collagen and other intracellular matrix structures
- tissue repair and wound healing
- the formation of antibodies and stimulation of the white blood cells
- formation of anti-stress hormones
- absorption of iron
- antihistamine activity
Alongside all of these vital functions in the body, vitamin C is a very powerful antioxidant. Its main role is in the cellular fluid. It has been particularly investigated in relation to smokers and it is recommended that smokers would benefit from increasing their vitamin C intake
Vitamin E is a very important dietary antioxidant. Its properties are vital in the membranes of tissues which have a high concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) such as in the brain, nervous system and lungs. Vitamin E helps to protect PUFAs and other fatty substances such as cholesterol from oxidation caused by free radicals. Its role in protecting lipids in cell walls is particularly important, as these lipids are susceptible to oxidation. If these cell walls do become oxidised it may contribute to heart disease. For this reason vitamin E is thought to be a healing and protecting factor in atherosclerosis and thrombosis.
The carotenoids are one of the pigments that are responsible for the colour of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. It is these carotenoids that protect the plant tissue from becoming burnt and destroyed in the sunlight. Beta-carotene is the main carotenoid but there are many others such as zeaxanthin, lutein and lycopene. Carotenoids have a similar role in humans as they do in plants. They inactivate free radicals making the skin less prone to damage from sunlight.
Sunlight is in actual fact an energy form known as ultra-violet (UV) light. Humans tend to adapt to UV through changes in skin pigmentation. Fair skinned people who live in areas of the world where exposure to UV is low are more likely to suffer problems associated with UV damage than those with darker skins who have adapted to higher levels of UV. Exposure to UV can initiate free radicals in the top layer of the skin causing photo ageing.
Increasing the body's intake of carotenoids alongside using high factor sun creams may be more beneficial than using sun creams alone.
Herbs and other compounds
It is not only the vitamins and minerals that are very useful antioxidants. Certain other substances such as botanicals may be helpful. One of the most potent antioxidant herbs is green tea. Green tea is derived from the same plant as the black tea that is commonly drunk in the western world. The tea plant is an evergreen shrub or tree, which originated in India, however it is now widely cultivated in China, japan, North Africa and the Middle East. The black tea that we are more familiar with has been allowed to oxidise, whereas green tea is produced by lightly steaming, then drying the fresh-cut leaf. This process keeps the polyphenols (a group of active compounds) intact. The polyphenols in green tea enhance the antioxidant defence systems and the activity of certain antioxidant enzymes. Studies have shown that green tea polyphenols are better scavengers of free radicals than vitamins C and E. Green tea is thought to be particularly effective at protecting against free radical damage in the gastrointestinal tract. Other antioxidant herbs include bilberry and milk thistle.
The most important message in terms of dietary advice is to eat sufficient fruit and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are packed full of the specific antioxidant nutrients already mentioned, as well as all the important co-factors and other substances that may assist them. Government advice is to eat 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Following this advice will help to boost the body's antioxidant defences.
Should we supplement?
While it is always preferable to obtain all of the required nutrition from our diet, for those who cannot for any reason (for example, those who have limited appetites or time) it may be beneficial to take a good quality antioxidant supplernent. Others who may want to consider supplementation are those who are at high risk of oxidative stress, such as smokers and city dwellers who are exposed to increased levels of pollution.
The most suitable supplement from the Quest range is Cell-Life Antioxidant, which combines antioxidant vitamins, minerals and carotenoids.
My thanks to Today's Therapist for permission to reprint this article and to Claire Matthews of Quest Vitamins.
For more about the Quest range of supplements visit
ITEC, CIDESCO, CIBTAC, ABThNZ
Beauty Therapist, Janine Tait of Lox Hair & Beauty, in Tauranga, has been a therapist for the last 15 years. She has specialised as a skin therapist treating skin problems such as severe acne and eczema using Janesce skin care and nutritional advice.
I was recently reading the information given to acne sufferers from the dermatology department of a hospital and I was surprised to find that these patients were advised that their diet played no part in the condition of their skin. However, the skin is completely reliant on the body for its nutrition, waste removal and immune response it is basically created and nourished from the inside. The skin functions as our largest organ within a system of organs. We can see how it reacts to changes within our bodies when we consider its role as an excretory organ. If the body becomes overloaded with toxins and the liver, kidneys and bowel cannot cope; the skin will excrete the excess. This is only one example of the skin's inter-relationship with other organs of our body.
One of the most direct ways of influencing the condition of our skin is by supporting the health of our bodies. We can certainly do this through diet and because our modern diet is becoming more and more inadequate, through vitamin and mineral supplementation.
So what can we do as therapists to help our clients suffering from acne?
There are many causes of acne and occasionally we do come across acne caused through contact with comedogenic substances such as machine oils, coal tar derivatives, chlorinated hydrocarbons or ingredients within makeup or cosmetics.
However, most commonly acne is a response by the skin to an internal imbalance within the body. These imbalances can be hormonal due to the changes associated with puberty, our menstrual cycle or stress a medication or a dietary deficiency such as low levels of zinc, potassium or Vitamin B6.
Acne caused through contact with comedogenic substances can be addressed by removing the offending chemical or protecting the skin with the application of a fine layer of grapeseed oil. However, for acne caused through internal factors such as stress or hormonal imbalances our best weapon is diet and nutritional supplements in addition to the external support we can offer with our skin care lines.
For example, when acne is caused through stress, we need to look to the adrenal glands. Over stimulation of these glands often results in an increase in androgens like testosterone, which promotes the rate of keratisation and sebum production in the skin. Vitamin C is vital for the correct functioning of the adrenal glands. In fact, the adrenals are the only place in our bodies that Vitamin C is stored. Vitamin C also aids in the production of the anti-stress hormones and interferon. Bach flower remedies are also worth considering. They provide a safe and effective treatment that can be individually blended to address the type of stresses affecting the client. Another option is herbs; for example Siberian Ginseng is a well-known adaptogen, helping the body deal with stress on a cellular level. However, a qualified herbal practitioner should prescribe this herb.
When acne is the result of a hormonal imbalance whether naturally occurring or through medication such as oral contraceptives, steroids or certain anti-epileptic drugs, then we should support not only the adrenals but the liver as well. This is because the liver is responsible for breaking down our waste hormones so they can be excreted. The herb dandelion contains many trace elements that support the function of the liver. Milk thistle is another useful herb which can actually repair liver tissue. Again these herbs are best prescribed by an herbal practitioner but an easy liver tonic you can suggest to your client is the juice of a lemon in a glass of water taken every morning upon rising.
Our liver also processes the fats and oils in our diet. The types of fats we eat also influence our skin health. To put it simply, a diet rich in saturated fats creates sebum that is thick, viscous, easily blocking the pores and even irritating the skin. In contrast, essential fatty acids are an excellent skin food, encouraging the skin to heal, soothing it and it has even been suggested that they can help dissolve blockages in the pores.
Evening Primrose Oil is one of the best sources of the Omega 6 essential fatty acids and I generally recommend that my acne clients take 1000mg of EPO per day for the first month and then reduce this to 500mg. I encourage clients to take this in conjunction with a supplement of Vitamin B Complex as this must be present for the body to process EFAs. Vitamin B Complex also improves the blood flow to the skin making it a valuable supplement for the acne sufferer especially when we consider that acne can be a sign of Vitamin B6 deficiency
We can also support the skin by ensuring that it is not required to excrete an overload of toxins from the body. Encouraging our client to drink lots of water will flush the kidneys and a high fiber diet will keep the colon clean. Yogurt is another useful food, providing us with a good source of B Complex and helping to maintain healthy intestinal flora.
No acne treatment is complete without Vitamin A. This important vitamin regulates the secretions of the sebaceous glands, strengthens epithelial tissue and forms antiseptic agents found in our hydro-lipidic film. Vitamin A also promotes tissue humidity, which is important, when we consider that most acne skins are dehydrated due to the harsh treatment they receive with more commonly available acne products.
I usually recommend that clients take betacarotene supplements, which is converted in the liver to Vitamin A.
Many other nutrients play an important role when treating an acneic skin. Zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin D encourage the skin to heal quickly, reducing the possibility of scarring. Acne can also be a sign of deficiency of potassium, Vitamin B6 or Zinc so it is important to encourage our client to eat foods rich in these elements to eliminate this as a possible cause.
All of these lovely nutrients are useless if our bodies are incapable of digesting them. Check to see if your client suffers from flatulence or indigestion, if so, this can mean an enzyme supplement is also necessary.
Antibiotics are a common form of treatment for our acne clients and some people can become dependant on them. There are however many alternatives, for example, garlic is a naturally occurring antibiotic, echinacea helps by cleansing the blood and Chromium Picotinate aids in reducing infections.
It is also worth cautioning your client against a diet too rich in saturated fats and advice that they avoid alcohol because it is damaging to the liver and adrenals. If my client exercises excessively, I recommend they ease off as this can make them more sensitive to androgens.
Externally I use skin care products containing nutrient-rich herbs. Plants provide a valuable source of treatment because they are very compatible with the skin, penetrating deeply and promoting blood and lymph flow, encouraging cell regeneration, aiding in the healing of the skin, they have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, and are capable of regulating the glands of the skin.
Some examples of useful herbs and flowers are:
Balances the oil glands, healing, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory.
Stimulates circulation and promotes the blood flow to the skin.
Estrogenic which helps to counter-act the effect of androgens.
Anti-inflammatory, healing and soothing.
Sedative, soothing, healing and anti-inflammatory.
Healing, astringent and soothing.
Healing, contains Vitamin A and essential fatty acids.
In summary, we can most certainly influence the condition of the skin through diet and supplementation. This is particularly true in the case of acne as it is so often caused by a response of the skin to internal imbalances. This approach is more effective than just treating the skin externally and gives us far better results. It also provides the client with the opportunity of actively participating in the healing and wellbeing of their skin.
Balch, P & J. (1997).
Prescription for Nutritional Healing.
(2nd Ed). New York
Avery Publishing Group