When it comes to skincare, is nutrition the answer?
Egyptian ruler Cleopatra, renowned for her beauty, reportedly indulged in milk and honey baths whilst the Romans used creams with oregano seeds. But what does it take nowadays to care for the human body’s largest organ? Arnelle Paterson sets out to find the perfect method for beautiful skin
Within a 10 mile radius of Islington, there are currently nearly 100 nutritional skin therapists as detailed on Nutritionist Resource, an online directory advertising nutritional therapists and dieticians in the UK. Could nutrition be the secret to beautiful skin?
The answer to this question may please the vast majority of people – whether in Islington or the whole of the UK. Acne Treatment UK, a campaigning group for safe acne solutions, revealed in 2012 that 80% of those aged 11 to 30 are affected by the skin condition.
With acne affecting a large number of individuals, patients routinely turn to doctors for help. The Centre of Evidence Based Dermatology at the University of Nottingham found that the most frequent reason for people to consult their general practitioner with a new problem is because of their skin.
However, patients are often left dissatisfied. At the moment, more than 50% of acne bacteria are resistant to antibiotics in many parts of the world and rates continue to rise due to the habitual prescription by GPs, according to Dr Patrick Bowler, founding member of the British College of Aesthetic Medicine. In addition, the long term use of antibiotics can cause immunity to bacteria, which can be problematic in the event of an infection.
Does this mean sufferers should shun antibiotics? Not in all cases, says Miguel Toribio-Mateas, a former acne sufferer and nutritional medicine practitioner who works in Islington. Toribio-Mateas uses the Functional Medicine model: this addresses the underlying causes of ailments through urine and blood tests, before the practitioner recommends dietary changes tailored to the individual.
“Nutrition compliments medical treatment and not necessarily replaces it,” he says. “I tried antibiotics but subtle changes to my diet were a lot more powerful than drugs. If drugs are to be taken, working along a nutrition expert will ensure a more positive result with less side effects.”
One may question how powerful nutritional changes can be and whether our current diets are problematic. Categorised as ‘western’, a term defined by TheFreeDictionary.com, this refers to a diet high in saturated fats, red meat, carbohydrates, junk food and low in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seafood. This makes our diets highly glycemic (sugary), which encourages the conversion of Testosterone into DHT, the male sex hormone, producing high levels of Insulin, leading to the overproduction of Sebum (oil). This produces hormonal imbalances, blocked pores, and acne.
Dr Loren Cordain is a leading expert on the diet of our Stone Age ancestors and believes we should adopt this ‘natural’ diet, known as the Paleo diet. This includes meat, fish, vegetables and fruits but no dairy, cereal or processed food.
Multiple studies have shown that indigenous tribes who follow this diet, such as the Ache of Eastern Paraguay and the Kitavan Islanders of Papua New Guinea, have little or no acne. Dr Cordain and his team from Colorado State University’s studies concluded that this was because the average Kitavan Islander’s diet was high in tubers, fruit, fish and coconut while the Ache’s diet consisted of wild, locally grown food with only 8% of it being ‘western’.
Toribio-Mateas seems to confirm Cordain’s theory. “I had to learn how to balance my stress levels and blood sugar which feed off each other,” he says. “Most acne sufferers suffer from varying degrees of blood sugar dysregulation. Having a source of protein with every meal, even snacks, helps. If the root cause of your acne is blood sugar imbalance and you are having sugary foods, you are contributing to the underlying condition which feeds into the acne cycle.”
Despite this, the NHS website states that there is no link between acne and diet.
Hayley Pedrick, a nutritional therapist and head clinician at the Nutrition Coach, believes strongly in “the powerful effect” of food on the body and has seen first-hand the misdiagnosis of skin patients. She says:
“I’ll see people who’ve got rashes on their arms and they’ll be told by their dermatologists that they’ve got insect bites whereas they’ve got a gluten sensitivity. I worked in Malta for 18 months using food and supplements as protocol. They definitely get you results in half the time!”
With this notion, one must question what we should be consuming and the dosage. Natural Acne Clinic, a website by acne specialist Jessica Gremley, recommends 10,000iu of Vitamin A, 40mg of Zinc, 48mcg of Selenium and 1,000mg of Omega 3, whilst Chris Kresser, a leader in alternative therapies, additionally recommends Vitamin C. A busy lifestyle can often mean that we don’t consume these essential vitamins on a daily basis, which can help with the shedding of dead skin cells, inflammation and hormone balancing.
This may be why people choose to take food supplements. Sharan, a driving instructor from West London, has seen results on her arm acne since she began taking Biotin C, a multivitamin, which helps with skin collagen and repair, as well as adopting a vitamin-enriched skincare regimen, but interestingly no dietary changes. Showing a picture of her current arm, she says: “My doctor gave me so many creams which didn’t help. When I started using the polishing scrub, it really reduced it. They were much more dark and visible before.”
Despite this, Pedrick is adamant that we can’t rely solely on supplements for skin health. “When you want to stop these supplements for any reasons, you want to know that you’re gonna be able to maintain these results,” he says.
Toribio-Mateas also believes that supplements are only to be used temporarily to re-establish nutritional balance, but not as a long-term solution.
Additionally, Patient.co.uk, a website written by UK doctors, details the side effects of excessively consuming these recommended vitamins, known as hypervitaminosis. Side effects range from nausea and dehydration to liver failure and bone fragility. Whilst such consequences may be uncommon, they do occur. Moreover, although Biotin C, priced at £15.85, doesn’t produce toxicity at high doses, LiveStrong.com, a website written by leading health experts, notes it can cause breathing problems if the user is allergic. The multivitamin’s other component, Vitamin C, can cause stomach pain and diarrhoea if consumed in excess of 1,000mg per day.
So what is the secret to perfect skin? Pedrick says “it’s a combination of healthy diet, lifestyle and plenty of water. There is no one secret, everybody has to find their own.” On that note, I’m off to find it.