The adage that goes: ‘you are what you eat’, might sound too much of a humdrum; but one can’t ignore the direct effects of what your diet can do to your body. Often, the implications are immediate. After a massive meal, you tend to feel sluggish while concentration levels might start to dip. Of course in the long run, with an unhealthy diet of binge-eating coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, some individuals would notice plausible weight gain.

But what about our skin? Particularly our cherished mien, where we spend a considerable amount of time and money when it comes to beautifying it. Running the gamut from skincare to make-up, there are a million products out there that are dedicated to the purpose of healthy, beautiful skin. What most of us forget however, is the everyday variable of our diets. The food that we consume on a daily, are said to attribute to the same effects of the moisturisers and serums we smear on. But to what extent, especially for individuals with concerns like persistent acne and discolouration?

To shed some light on the matter, we asked Dr Sylvia Ramirez of Cutis Medical Laser Clinics and Pooja Vig of The Nutrition Clinic on the effects of diet on skin and how we can pay better attention to the food we consume.

How does diet relate to our skin?

According to Dr Ramirez, it all boils down to the relationship between diet, gut organisms and their impact on skin, in a coined term called “gut-skin-axis”. Whatever that goes into your gut, directly reaches your skin. She explains: “An imbalance in the gut or skin microbe tends to impact the other. Any foods and nutrients that you put in your body can affect your gut health. Common skin conditions that stem from imbalance of the gut include acne, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, rosacea, etc.”

From a nutritionist standpoint, Vig concurs. “In functional medicine, we view skin health as a reflection of your gut—the gut lining is your “inner” skin, and when it is out of balance, you may start seeing symptoms like skin dullness, itchiness, or persistent eczema.”

Common skin conditions that can arise from diet

Saggy and aging skin

According to Dr Ramirez, “Excess sugar binds with the proteins in the bloodstream. This results in the formation of harmful molecules known as AGEs or advanced glycation end products, which attach to the collagen and elastin in our skin resulting in abnormal stiffening of these proteins and accelerated skin aging. This is why the term “sugar sag” has been coined.” The harmful effects of high GI foods also go beyond than just acne, but they are also more likely to generate free radicals (unstable molecules that can cause damage to the DNA and accelerate aging). “Salty and deep-fried foods are specifically bad, as foods fried in oil at high temperatures release free radicals.”

Acne

A main concern that young adults battle with on a daily basis would be acne. Dr Ramirez says: “In many cases, the relationship between food and certain skin issues like acne has got to do with the food’s glycemic index (GI). GI measures how much or quickly each food increases your blood sugar levels. Those that are high in refined carbs and sugars have a high glycemic index; the body digests these foods quickly, causing your sugar levels to spike. Frequently eating foods that have a high GI can prompt the body to raise its blood sugar levels. This can then contribute to inflammation, acne, and a number of issues over time.”

As far as inflammation goes, Vig proposes identifying food sensitivities—via a blood test that’s available at The Nutrition Clinic. “The impact of food sensitivities start long before symptoms start showing up — the gut lining is the first in line to get damaged when we eat foods that cause a level of inflammation in the body.” However for individuals who aren’t too keen on getting tested, she recommends adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. “Stay away from processed foods — you never know what and just how many chemicals are in them, and eat lots of clean vegetables with lean protein.”

But one important thing to note from Dr Ramirez is that: “Acne is a very complex inflammatory disorder and changing diet alone may not necessarily make a huge difference.” She highlights the difficulty in nutrition research and urges everyone to be cautious with generalisations. “According to the American Academy of Dermatology, based on the well-designed published research available today, there are no specific dietary changes that are recommended for the management of acne. Furthermore, nutrition is just one of the many factors that may play a role in acne. Genetics, hormones, environment and sleep quality can also contribute to acne formation.”

What is a recommended diet then?

It seems, diet isn’t a cure-all when it comes to improving our skin. But one can’t ignore the impact that it can make on your skin. The same goes for daily cleansing your face, it isn’t a foolproof ticket to clear and good skin, but it undeniably plays a part in the whole process. Dr Ramirez advises piling up on low glycemic foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. When it comes to the common suspects like dairy or fried foods that are said to trigger acne, she maintains that it all depends on each individual. “It is best to keep a food diary or notice how your skin reacts to certain foods. If you, for instance, notice acne or worsened breakouts after consuming dairy, try cutting it (and other high GI foods like ice cream and high sugar yogurts) out of your diet to see if anything changes.”

On the anti-aging front, Vig recommends eating specific nutrients like probiotic digestive enzymes, collagen and bone broth to help boost gut and skin health. “After the age of 25, our body’s collagen production goes down, and supplementing with collagen can help with skin elasticity and texture. At the clinic, we also recommend collagen to help health digestive issues, joint pain, and muscle growth.”

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