New products plug all sorts of ingredient combinations for outer radiance, but what specific nutrients can you point shoppers to for smooth, glowing skin, strong nails and shiny hair? NFM put the question to nutrition and beauty experts.
Add some antioxidants
Antioxidants battle free radicals—the arch enemies of beauty. Produced by normal metabolism as well as toxins and pollutants, these unstable oxygen molecules attack cells and break them down, leading to signs of aging such as wrinkles and age spots. Unfortunately, as we age, our bodies lose their ability to absorb the plant compounds that can act as antioxidants, says Ben Fuchs, pharmacist and cosmetic chemist for natural skin care company Sanitas in Boulder, Colo. "That's where supplements come in."
Vitamin A. Vitamin A is fundamental to the maintenance of tissues that make up the surface of the skin, says Lisa Drayer, R.D., in The Beauty Diet (McGraw-Hill, 2009). Plus, recent research suggests that beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A synthesis, protects against skin-damaging sunburn. Vitamin A is recommended for acne, too, because it supports the skin's immune response, says Dr. Alan Dattner, a holistic dermatologist in New Rochelle, N.Y. According to Drayer, it also helps produce and protect the scalp's natural oil.
Vitamin C. Not only does vitamin C neutralize free radicals, it is also a necessary ingredient for the production of collagen, the fibers underneath the skin that keep it firm. As skin ages, it produces less collagen, resulting in lax, wrinkled skin; but a 2007 study showed that women who ate more vitamin C-rich foods actually had fewer wrinkles.
Vitamin E. Aside from its antioxidant capacities, vitamin E also contributes to clear, bright eyes by reducing the risk of cataracts. It helps stabilize the skin's lipid membranes and protects the scalp's natural oils while promoting circulation for healthy hair, Drayer says.
Zinc. Another potent antioxidant, zinc helps renew and repair skin and create collagen, says Esther Blum, R.D., a clinical nurse specialist and author of Eat, Drink, and Be Gorgeous (Chronicle Books, 2007). Zinc helps balance blood-sugar levels, so it's easy to deplete zinc stores by eating refined carbohydrates. Noshing on whole grains and taking a zinc supplement can help improve skin tone. Because the mineral is a precursor to progesterone, estrogen and testosterone, zinc deficiency leads to hormonal imbalances and then acne, Blum says.
Don't forget good fats
While hydrogenated oils can contribute to inflammation in the body, which is thought to trigger signs of aging, omega-3 essential fatty acids fight inflammation and can help reverse the effects of sun damage. Omega-3s help maintain the skin's oil barrier, keeping moisture in and germs out, Drayer explains. They also help balance hormones, contributing to a clear complexion, and help your body store other beauty- and mood-boosting nutrients such as vitamins A, E, D and K, which can only be broken down with fats.
Knock back probiotics
Although countless topical beauty products aim to kill bacteria, nutritionists say that restoring the body's flora of good bacteria is actually more likely to result in long-term beauty effects. Fuchs of Sanitas explains that if the digestive system is off-kilter, the body will have trouble absorbing ingested nutrients, which will affect outer appearance. For example, if B vitamins aren't being digested properly, hair won't get the nutrients it needs, resulting in dull strands and potential hair loss. The solution? Probiotics. Blum especially recommends these beneficial bugs for acne—the good bacteria have been shown to aid reactive skin types and soothe eczema.
Zone in on vitamins
B complex. Without B complex vitamins, hair becomes weak and brittle and growth slows, according to Drayer. She explains that B6 helps create melanin, which gives hair and skin their color, while B7, or biotin, fights hair loss. B6, B12 and B9, or folate, all aid in producing red blood cells, which help transport oxygen to the scalp for healthy hair growth. Studies have also connected biotin supplements to stronger nails.
Vitamin D. The sunshine vitamin is essential for calcium absorption, which is vital for strong, beautiful teeth and sturdy bones. A 2008 study in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology also showed that vitamin D supplements could boost protective compounds in skin.
Mind the minerals
Iron. Drayer explains that even if someone's not clinically anemic, an iron deficiency can cause dry and brittle hair, or even hair loss. Tresses need iron to help red blood cells carry oxygen to the hair follicles and build strong hair shafts.
Selenium. This vital trace mineral guards the skin's elasticity by joining with proteins to gain antioxidant powers, helping in the fight against free-radical damage. According to Fuchs, many people tend to be deficient in selenium, which is essential to the body's detoxification system.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXX/number 1/p. 24,26