new_health (2006-24)

Feel the Burn

If you’re into self-destruction, that is

by Wendy C. Smith

School’s out for summer. Memorial Day is past. It’s time to pack our bags and take a trip. Although any time of year is good for a vacation, most of us still tend to take our vacations in the warmth of the summer sun. I’m pretty sure I was a Siamese cat in a previous life. There’s not a whole lot more I like better than lying in a warm sunny spot. Unfortunately, my fair skin is not as hearty or protective as cat fur. I’ve had more than my fair share of sunburns, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a tan, though I do remember trying (in vain, I might add).

But too much sun can be responsible for more than just a sunburn. Many experts now say that most skin damage and accelerated aging are caused by free radicals, those pesky oxygen ions floating around just waiting to ravage our good looks by stealing electrons from perfectly healthy molecules in our skin. And sunlight, aside from providing far more ultra violet rays than we need, is a free radical catalyst. When excessive sunlight hits skin, all kinds of insidious free radical damage begin. The short story is that free radicals damage the collagen molecules that make our skin soft and resilient. The damaged collagen molecules create defects, premature wrinkles, loss of elasticity and uneven tones in the skin.

So what’s the answer to having outside summer fun and protecting our precious epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous layer? There are actually several things. One of the most important things to do is to use sunscreen that has a SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. (Two excellent natural brands are Alba Botanicals and Aubrey Organics.) SPF’s are based on medium-toned skin, so the fairer the complexion, the higher the SPF needs to be for decent protection.

Another important thing to do is protect your skin from the inside out. Free radical damage can be reduced with antioxidants, which limit or reverse to some extent the damage that free radicals can do. Antioxidants sort of “turn off” the molecular aging processes that free radicals turn on. Vitamin A and vitamin E are good fat-soluble antioxidants that also slightly boost the body’s ability to withstand ultraviolet radiation (but don’t even think about giving up the sunscreen). Vitamin A is useful in fighting severe acne and protects hair and vision. It also aids in calcium absorption and bone health.

Vitamin E, especially tocotrienol vitamin E (HPE), which is simply a powerful type of vitamin E, is very good at boosting the moisture content of the skin and controlling free radical damage. Additionally, vitamin E helps lower cholesterol levels and may help prevent heart disease and breast cancer. The average adult can take up to 10,000 to 20,000 IU of vitamin A per day and between 400 to 800 IU of vitamin E a day.

Another good antioxidant is vitamin C. It is water-soluble and needs to be replenished on a daily basis. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of other nutrients by keeping cell membranes healthy. Take a vitamin C with a high bioflavonoid content, which strengthens connective tissue and capillary walls and helps prevent spider veins. Vitamin C also boosts the immune system and strengthens white blood cells. It is responsible for the production of collagen, speeds up the healing of wounds and helps control free radicals. The average adult can take between 3000 and 5000 milligrams of vitamin C daily.

Another fabulous and universal antioxidant (soluble in water and fat) is alpha lipoic acid. It is 400 times more powerful than vitamins C or E and fights free radical damage inside and outside the body. It can prevent inflammatory reactions in the body (which trigger many types of disease) and is thought to slow the onset of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and arthritis. Alpha lipoic acid is also useful in controlling diabetes as it helps to regulate blood sugar. The average person should take about 100 milligrams a day.

Then there are also the familiar omega-3 fatty acids. The usefulness of these cannot be understated in hydrating the skin and producing a glowing complexion. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation, aid in heart health and can be very useful in healing skin conditions such as eczema.

Although there are other vitamins and minerals that help our skin fight sun damage and aging, the aforementioned ones are very important. All of these can be taken as supplements. However, it is always wise to get as much nutrition as possible from actual food.

There are many skin healthy foods that provide a range of tastes as well as skin optimizing nutrients. For example, coldwater fish, free-range meats and eggs and flax seeds are just a few ways to load up on omega-3s. Squash, spinach, onions, green beans, asparagus, collard greens, green peppers, berries, cantaloupe and kiwi are all rich in antioxidants. Fats such as olive oil, walnut oil, canola oil, nut butters and avocados are beneficial in helping the skin stay moist.

It’s time for summer fun. Eat well, wear sunscreen and enjoy your vacation.