Your skin and your hormones play a vital role in your overall health and wellness. Your skin protects what’s inside you by keeping water and nutrients in, while keeping harmful bacteria and viruses out. It helps you maintain your body temperature and makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun. It’s also full of nerve endings to help you sense the outside world and avoid damage from things that are too hot, cold, or sharp.
As estrogen and progesterone decline during our mid-life, "queenaging" years, so does our skin elasticity and collagen availability. Wrinkles start to form and skin starts to sag from increased matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzyme activity that leads to collagen breakdown; and the excess free radical exposure from sun exposure and even pollution. It's not too late to treat your skin from the inside out with healthy nutrition that nourishes and protects.
Skin care isn’t only something we need to do on the outside. What we eat and drink affects our vital organs, hormone metabolism and our skin. Here are some of the essential nutrients you need to keep your skin nourished and your hormones in harmony so you can look and feel your very best.
7 important nutrients for healthy skin & hormones
You may not always think about water as an essential nutrient, but it is. Water plays many important roles in your body. It’s the main component in your cells and fluids. It allows you to maintain your body temperature and it provides shock absorption for your joints. It’s no wonder that adults are 60% water.
When it comes to our skin, water is of paramount importance. Your skin has three layers. The outermost layer—the one you see and feel—is called the epidermis. The middle layer is the dermis and underneath that is your hypodermis. When your epidermis doesn’t have enough water, your skin feels rough and loses elasticity. The water your epidermis needs comes from the inside. One clinical study found that when participants who didn’t drink a lot of water increased their intake, their skin became more hydrated and their skin’s “extensibility” improved within 2 weeks. Drinking more water can help skin hydration and may be particularly beneficial if you have dry skin.
How much water do you need every day? According to the Mayo Clinic, women should aim for 11.5 cups of fluids per day, while men should aim for
15.5 cups per day. Note that these fluids can come from drinking water or other beverages, and can even come from water-rich foods like soups, fruits, and vegetables. Your personal water needs may be higher if you sweat a lot from physical activity, living in a hot, humid environment, or from hormonal hot flashes; or if you are prone to urinary or digestive tract conditions such as, kidney stones, vomiting, diarrhea.
Protein is an essential macronutrient which means you need quite a bit of it every day (more than with micronutrients like vitamins and minerals where you need much smaller amounts every day). Protein makes up parts of your cells, immune system antibodies, and the enzymes needed for thousands of reactions (including digestion). Your body’s main structure is also made from proteins. This includes your bones, muscles, organs . . . and skin!
Your skin is made up of several different proteins. For example, collagen and elastin are very plentiful and build up the structure of your skin. Over time, and with exposure to the elements, your body’s ability to produce collagen decreases. Keratin is another important protein in your skin. Keratin makes up the outer epidermis layer giving it rigidity and enhancing its barrier protection.
Protein needs vary depending on many factors including age, body weight, lean body mass, health status, kidney function, etc. The phytoestrogens in soy protein are known to treat menopausal symptoms as they augment the natural estrogen in the body. They also protect against breast cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis. Taking collagen protein peptides on a daily basis seems to compensate for the collagen breakdown we suffer from aging and not only helps the skin, but the bones and joints, as well. As a general guideline for healthy skin, include protein-rich foods at each meal.
Protein is found in animal foods like fish, poultry, eggs, meat, and dairy.
Plant-based sources of protein include soy, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and even vegetables like broccoli, and asparagus.
There are also many protein supplements including whey, soy, pea, rice, collagen, and other ingredients.
Essential fatty acids: omega-6 and omega-3
There are two types of fatty acids that are essential nutrients for our health and our skin. They are linoleic acid (omega-6) and linolenic acid (omega-3). Omega-3 fatty acids in particular are anti-inflammatory and have been linked to many health benefits including improvements in rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, heart disease, and psoriasis, to name a few. They also support estrogen and progesterone production, an important consideration for aging women.
A higher intake of linoleic acid, is associated with lower levels of skin dryness and thinning as skin ages. Evening primrose oil is a short chain omega 6 fatty acid source useful to treat menopausal symptoms and skin dryness. On the other hand, a lack of fatty acids is linked to increased water loss from the skin, drying it out and causing weakness in the protective outer barrier.
You can get these essential fatty acids from:
Fish (salmon, sardines)
Seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, hemp, sunflower, sesame)
Oils (avocado, walnut, flaxseed), leafy vegetables, and avocados
Essential fatty acids are also available in fish oil and algae supplements
Evening primrose oil is a short chain omega 6 fatty acid source
If you suffer from eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, or acne, a blood test to assess for essential fatty acid deficiency may be helpful.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that has many important functions, including keeping your skin cells healthy. It exists in two forms, retinoids from animal foods and carotenoids from plant sources. Carotenoids including beta-carotene, astaxanthin, lutein, and lycopene have antioxidant and photoprotective properties. Vitamin A has been shown to be of benefit in a number of skin conditions including acne, psoriasis, wound healing, and photoaging.
Animal sources of Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate):
Liver and fish liver oils
Whole milk dairy products (yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, butter)
Plant sources of Beta-carotene, which converts to Vitamin A in the body:
Dark green leafy vegetables (arugula, kale, spinach, etc.)
Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant vitamin that plays many roles in your body, including in skin health. A deficiency of Vitamin C results in skin lesions, as well as skin that is easily bruised and slow to heal. This is, in part, because of Vitamin C’s role in stabilizing the protein collagen. To reduce skin aging, make sure you take in your vitamin C containing foods along side your collagen.
Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of Vitamin C, in particular:
Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits)
Rose hip, and parsley
Vitamin E is a group of essential vitamins called tocopherols. They are fat-soluble antioxidants that work synergistically with Vitamin C. When given together, vitamins C and E (and zinc) can speed up wound healing. The deficiency of Vitamin E is linked to red, dry skin. Vitamin E is often applied directly (topically) on the skin to reduce redness and some of the effects of sun damage. Ingesting Vitamin E helps the skin from the inside by protecting collagen and fats from breaking down. One clinical study successfully improved symptoms of dermatitis (skin inflammation) in participants who took Vitamin E supplements over the course of several months. The recommended daily allowance for Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) is 15 mg.
Good sources of Vitamin E include:
Vegetables (spinach, broccoli, corn)
Oils (wheat germ oil, olive oil)
Nuts (almonds, hazelnuts)
Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)
The “sunshine” vitamin is widely known for its role in bone health. It also plays key roles in just about every tissue in the body including our heart, brain, muscles, immune system, and skin. A deficiency of vitamin D has consequences on skin health and has been implicated in many dermatological diseases. Optimal vitamin D intake may reduce risk of early menopause; and aging has been linked to lower vitamin D levels. Our best source of vitamin D is exposure to incidental sunlight (ultraviolet-B-radiation, UVB) as our skin is the vehicle for manufacturing vitamin D in our bodies.
Food sources of vitamin D include:
Fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
Fish liver oils
Foods fortified with vitamin D (dairy and non-dairy beverages, orange juice, etc.)
Mushrooms exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet light
Genetics is an important factor that influences our ability to maintain optimal vitamin D status. It is important to get your vitamin D level checked at least once per year. Aim to maintain a vitamin D level of at least 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L), which may require Vitamin D supplementation.
The bottom line
The nutrients you consume feed your whole body, optimizing your hormone harmony and your skin. With dynamic and critical roles, your skin and hormones need a variety of nutrients every day. Water, protein, essential fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E along with the sunshine vitamin D offer vital nourishment. In addition to nutrition, caring for the outside of your skin is also important. Using gentle cleansers, warm water, and moisturizers, and avoiding irritants and allergens will help. For specialized moisturizers, such as those for the face, be sure your choices have sufficient concentrations of the right bioactive components they contain to be sure they are doing the job for which you pay. Never forget to use a good sunscreen to protect your skin from premature aging.
Special thanks for Kathie Swift's guest appearance in our PhenomX Health blog. To learn more about Kathie, please see find her here: https://www.kathieswift.com/meet-kathie.
PhenomX Health empowers women to find personalized nutrition solutions for hormonal health and longevity. If you would like to share your journey with us, please fill out our PhenomX women's health survey here.
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