Have you shunned all fats from your diet in an attempt to fit into those skinny jeans? If yes, your skin won’t thank you! (actually your entire body won’t). In this blog I’ll discuss how regularly including certain foods in your diet can give you that supple, glowing, wrinkle-free skin you’ve always dreamed of.
Essential fatty acids and skin care: a little bit of history
In 1929, scientists George and Mildred Burr discovered that fats weren’t just a source of useless calories but rather critical to overall health. After meticulous analyses, they found that rats kept on a diet stripped of fat developed scaly and inflamed skin. These rats also suffered from increased water loss across their skin.
The researchers then gradually re-introduced fats in the animals’ diet and found that saturated fatty acids (like stearic, palmitic, and lauric acids) were ineffective. On the other hand, the rats were cured when given small amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). That’s when the Burrs coined the phrase ‘essential fatty acids’ (EFAs).
What exactly are essential fatty acids?
These skin care powerhouses are types of PUFAs which the body needs for a plethora of crucial physiological functions. Unlike other types of fats, our body cannot synthesise these fatty acids – we’re completely dependent on the food we eat to meet our needs.
There are 2 main types of EFAs:
- The omega 3s: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (ecosapentaenoic acid).
- The omega 6s: LA (linoleic acid) and AA (arachidonic acid).
Omega 3s and skin health
Thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties, omega 3s have the power to heal the skin and keep it smooth and younger-looking.
Studies also show that the marine fatty acids DHA and EPA may protect the skin from the sun's radiation. It appears that these omega 3s can attenuate UV-induced photoageing by making the skin less sensitive to UV light. In doing so, omega 3s also preserve collagen thus helping the skin to preserve its elasticity.
Omega 3 foods: Abundant in cold water fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, and black cod.
Fish oil supplements vs. fish: Eating fish may be more beneficial than taking supplements since fish also contains vitamin D and selenium, two nutrients that have been shown to protect the skin against premature ageing. Make sure you’re consuming wild fish though since the omega 3 content of farmed fish is much lower.
Omega 6s and skin health
To maintain its youthful appearance, the skin’s barrier must be functioning well enough to retain water and nutrients while ‘denying’ entry to microbes and toxins. That’s where omega-6 fatty acids come in: they keep the skin’s cell membranes (the skin’s barrier) healthy, elastic and selectively permeable (omega 3s also perform this function).
A diet lacking in EFAs would result in unstable membranes that would be unable to stop excessive water losses. This would result in dried out and saggy skin that will definitely look older.
Omega 6 foods: Avocado, poultry, nuts, meats, and eggs.
The modern diet is now much higher in omega 6 than in omega 3s (no thanks to the overabundance of vegetable oils like cornflower or soybean oils) in most processed foods. This discrepancy has been associated with a myriad of health complications and may even take a toll on the skin. An excessive intake of omega 6 from vegetable oils has been linked to an increased risk of inflammatory skin conditions.
So what should you do? For the sake of your skin and your overall health, make sure your diet revolves around whole foods and choose products from wild or grass-fed animals as much as possible.
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