Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Dermatology….just what is it and why has it finally come of age? What specifically are the diet, nutrition, and supplements which help make skin appear healthy and youthful?
This is a subject which has finally become more mainstream. When I first began investigating holistic dermatology 20 years ago, I was relegated to the hinterland of oddball alternative folks by other more conventional dermatologists. But middle-of-the-road America today embraces complementary and alternative medicine therapies, thanks in part to their unhappiness with the current state of the US health care system, media moguls like Dr. Andy Weil, and the realization that the typical American diet is not a healthy one. Just walking down the aisles of Target this week you can see there is an area devoted to natural skin care, featuring the Acure Line from plant stem cells and the supplement area has a generic hair, nails, and skin supplements. Almost all main grocery stores feature an organic and local produce section. Last year’s Natural Foods and Expo West trade show in LA had an audience of 50,000 vendors, salespeople, marketing professionals and entrepreneurs attending and capitalizing on the natural food, supplement and lifestyle trend!
The skin is the largest and most visible organ in the body, and so is a great indicator of general health as well as organ health. “Your skin is the fingerprint of what is going on inside your body, and all skin conditions, from psoriasis to acne to aging, are the manifestations of your body’s internal needs, including its nutritional needs,” says Georgiana Donadio, PhD, DC, MSc, founder and director of the National Institute of Whole Health in Boston (Bouchez)1. Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients give the skin a more radiant, healthy, and youthful glow. Studies have shown that a deficiency of vitamins B12, B6, C, E, folic acid, iron or zinc appears to mimic radiation in damaging DNA, causing single- and double-strand breaks, oxidative lesions or both. Many common micronutrient deficiencies, such as those of iron or biotin, also cause mitochondrial decay with oxidant leakage leading to accelerated aging (Ames 2004).2
It is best to get essential nutrients for one’s skin through one’s daily diet, but usually this is not entirely possible. Oral supplements and topical creams help. Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes.
A balanced, whole foods, unprocessed natural diet is crucial to the health of your patient’s skin. Drinking a sufficient amount of pure filtered water, about 8 glasses a day, is necessary to keep one’s skin well hydrated and healthy. Adequate intake through a healthy diet and, if necessary, nutritional supplementation of vitamins B, C, D, E, and K, as well as beta-carotene, are especially important in keeping the skin healthy. The minerals chromium, copper, and zinc are also necessary for the normal functioning of one’s skin. If nutrients cannot be adequately absorbed with a balanced diet, taking supplements such as bioflavonoids and quercetin, coenzyme Q10, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), essential fatty acids, and selenium can often be very helpful for keeping skin healthy or restoring it to its former state.
Carotenoids, Vitamin C, D, E, free fatty acids, and selenium supplementation have been clinically shown to reduce the signs of photoaging and aging of the skin. Adequate amounts of bioflavonoids and quercetin, calcium, magnesium, zinc, alpha-lipoic acid, acety-L-carnitine, CoQ10, DMAE, copper, and chromium are also thought to be necessary for healthy, youthful-looking skin. These nutrients ideally would be supplied by the diet, but oral supplements may sometimes be necessary. For example, as one ages, one cannot absorb all the vitamin D one needs from the sun and food sources, and additional Vitamin D supplementation is necessary.
Studies have shown that groups of oral antioxidants taken together help to create and restore youthful skin. Thirty-nine volunteers with healthy skin were divided into 3 groups and supplemented for a period of 12 weeks (Heinrich 2006) 20. Group 1 received a mixture of lycopene (3 mg/day), lutein (3 mg/day), beta-carotene (4.8 mg/day), alpha-tocopherol (10 mg/day) and selenium (75 mcg/day). Group 2 was supplemented with a mixture of lycopene (6 mg/day), and no lutein but the other supplements remained the same. Skin density and thickness was significantly increased and roughness and scaling were improved in Groups 1 and 2 compared to the Group 3 placebo control.