Eat Your Way To Youthful Skin

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on July 1, 2011

Recently, I came across some very interesting information about certain foods that help in the development of natural collagen production in the skin. I know that this may be a strange topic to cover on a food blog, but I found the information to be very interesting…and I hope you will to. Most of the information was very technical, so bear with me as I try to explain it in layman’s terms.

Did you know that the skin care industry is a multi-billion dollar business and squarely based on taking advantage of our fears related to aging? A large percentage of these sales numbers are attributed to anti wrinkle creams that promise to do a multitude of different things. But the question we all have to ask ourselves before we plunk down our hard earned cash for these very expensive creams is do these products actually work?

All of us want to look younger but are these creams with collagen the only answer to warding off the damage left behind with the passing of time? We hear the words free radicals tossed around as the main culprits in the development of many disease processes in the body, but what are they?

Free radicals are actually atoms within the molecules of our tissues that have unpaired electrons that are highly reactive. If they are allowed to run free throughout the body, they cause many degenerative diseases and are primarily responsible for many cancers.

We know that smoking, heavy drinking, chlorinated water, UV overexposure, poor diet and environmental toxins increase free radical damage to our skin and body…so in addition to removing these risks from our daily lives, what else can we do?

We all know that a healthy diet is the key to good health. A good diet is full of antioxidants which helps inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals which create chain reactions that can trigger cell damage or actually kill cells. The antioxidants in food help neutralize the free radicals before they can begin to cause any damage.

In addition to the powerful antioxidants available in certain foods, some are actually beneficial in helping to stimulate the declining levels of collagen in our body as we age.

But what is collagen and where is it found in our body?

Collagen is a type of protein that is fibrous in nature. All proteins are made up of amino acids, and two of the more prevalent amino acids in collagen are hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline. So far, 29 types of collagen have been identified in the human body, and these two types of amino acids seem to be important in the formation of all of them.

Over 90% of the collagen formed in the body is found in the cornea, but it is also found in the external structure of cells (and in some cases also the inside the cell), intervertebral discs (discs in between the vertebra of your spine that act as cushions), skin, tendons, artery walls, cartilage, bones, hair and teeth. When the collagen is formed in your body, it is earmarked for the different parts of the body and developed with the appropriate amount of strength and flexibility. You can say that collagen is the glue that holds the body together… Collagen works hand in hand with elastin in supporting the body’s tissues by providing firmness, strength and flexibility. In your skin, the collagen works with keratin to provide the skin with strength, flexibility and resilience.

As we age, our collagen production decreases and we begin to see the visible signs of aging with the onset of fine lines, wrinkles and sagging. The skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. Collagen is found in the dermis, so when applying creams with collagen, they simply sit on the surface of the skin because they cannot be readily absorbed due to the size of the collagen molecule.

One school of thought believes that it is more beneficial to buy anti aging products that stimulate collagen production where your body needs it, instead of buying creams with collagen in them. Following in this line of thought, a recent trend which took off in Japan several years ago believes that incorporating foods rich in collagen or those that aid in collagen formation are also beneficial in promoting collagen production from the inside out.

Many foods are considered collagen forming such as those rich in vitamins A, C & E. Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, asparagus and collard greens are packed with lutein and are also recommended in addition to red fruits and vegetables rich in lycopene such as tomatoes, red peppers, beets, cantaloupe, carrots and sweet potatoes.

Research at the University of Arizona has found that the antioxidants in red, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables build up extra UV protection under the skin. The effect of these antioxidants is so strong, that eating six portions of these brightly colored fruits and vegetables per day for 2 months will build a natural barrier in your skin equivalent to a factor four sunscreen.

Sulfur is also an important compound to the development of collagen and found in celery, cucumbers along with black and green olives.

Soy products have long been revered for their health benefits to heal the body in everything from lowering cholesterol to helping with pre-menopausal hot flashes. So I was not surprised that the genistein found in soy beans is also a collagen producing compound that helps to block enzymes responsible for aging the skin.

Beans also help your body produce a vital anti-aging substance called hyaluronic acid. As little as 2 tablespoons of beans per day will give you all you need.

Darker berries like cranberries, cherries, blueberries and blackberries also help to boost the antioxidant levels in the body to fight off free radicals and stimulate collagen production…but one thing I discovered that I never knew was that prunes have the highest level of antioxidants and only 3 pieces per day gives you a fighting dose.

Omega Fatty Acids also create an ideal environment for collagen production. Skin cells are surrounded by a fatty layer made from omega acids, and the stronger this layer is the plumper your skin cells will be, which will help disguise fine lines and wrinkles.  Fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut, mackerel and herring are excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids, so are the vegetarian versions of cashews, pecans, almonds and Brazil nuts. Flaxseed is also a great source of healthy omega 3 acids and 1 tablespoon per day will provide your body with the essential nutrients.

Turkey contains a vital skin friendly protein called carnosine that slows down a process in the skin called cross-linking. This process makes the fibers grow into the layers of collagen rendering it stiff. This process prevents the skin from snapping back to its natural condition when you would smile or frown…creating smile lines and crows feet.

Other beneficial meats promoting collagen formation are venison and bison.

Dark chocolate is also a skin friendly food boosting blood flow to the skin and boosting UV protection.

A more specialized ingredient called Manuka honey from New Zealand has also been identified with unique healing qualities and has been used in skin care for centuries. When used topically it can restore and rejuvenate your skin in addition to reducing blemishes.

Avocados are also in this collagen producing category. Whether you eat them or use a face mask made with avocado oil, it is deeply hydrating and highly compatible with the oils in your skin. It has been scientifically proven to stimulate collagen production in the dermis layer of your skin, which ideally is what we want. Avocado oil is high in plant steroids which also help in reducing blemishes and age spots.

Since the prevalent amino acids in collagen are the lysine and proline compounds, it would seem logical that consuming foods with high levels of both would also stimulate production of collagen, but so far, research is still very new in this area. Animal foods are the primary source of both of these amino acids. Egg whites appear to be an especially good source of proline from amongst the animal foods and one important vegetarian source of proline is wheat germ. This plant-based component has much more proline than would normally be expected from a plant food. Some good sources of lysine are low fat dairy products, fish and legumes, especially peanuts.

One final note about lysine, proline and collagen production involve the importance of vitamin C. This vitamin is required to change proline into hydroxyproline and lysine into hydroxylysine, which are required for collagen production.

While you are trying to support your collagen tissue, you should remember that overall protein intake – both quality and quantity – is important. You may need to go beyond the RDA protein level of 46 grams (for adult women) and 56 grams (for adult men) to achieve this goal. You may also need to include a variety of foods that provide protein. Nuts, seeds, and legumes would all be food categories to consider.

Finally, you may want to consider two categories of phytonutrients as particularly important in a collagen-building meal plan. Those phytonutrients are catechins and anthocyanidins. In the research literature, the catechins found in green tea have been shown to help prevent breakdown of collagen, and for this reason it is recommended that you consider green tea as a potential collagen support food. The anthocyanidins found in deep-colored, red-blue berries and fruits (including cherries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries) have been shown to work in a somewhat different way. These phytonutrients help the collagen fibers link together in a way that strengthens the connective tissue matrix.

So, go ahead and make sure to eat your fruits and veggies. Now we have even more reason to…

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