It’s time to close out my series on nutrition and skin health. I believe that a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet, with particular attention paid to certain vitamins, minerals, and other compounds, is a powerful tool in the treatment of skin disease. It’s unfortunate that many mainstream doctors and dermatologists typically deny any connection between diet and skin health, and many patients miss the opportunity to make major improvements in their skin simply by changing what they eat. I hope that this series will give you the evidence you need to make the switch to a skin-supporting diet.
In this final article, I will discuss the benefits of four nutrients that can play an important role in improving the look and feel of one’s skin: silica, niacin, vitamin K2, and probiotics. (Yes, probiotics are not a nutrient, but they may be one of the most important parts of a healthy skin diet!)
While silica may not be considered an essential nutrient by current standards, it is likely that this trace mineral plays a functional role in human health. (1) In animals, a silica deficient diet has been shown to produce poorly formed connective tissue, including collagen. In fact, silica has been shown to contribute to certain enzyme activities that are necessary for normal collagen formation. Silica is essential for maintaining the health of connective tissues due to its interaction with the formation of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which are structural building blocks of these types of tissue. One well-known GAG important for skin health is hyaluronic acid, which has been shown to promote skin cell proliferation and increase the presence of retinoic acid, improving the skin’s hydration. (2)
Therefore, a deficiency in silica could result in reduced skin elasticity and wound healing due to its role in collagen and GAG formation. As we know, proper collagen formation is essential for maintaining tight, wrinkle-free skin, so silica can also be beneficial for slowing down the signs of skin aging. It’s best to get silica from natural sources, and food sources of silica include leeks, green beans, garbanzo beans, strawberries, cucumber, mango, celery, asparagus and rhubarb. (3)
Silica can also be found in certain types of water, such as Fiji brand water, which contains more than four times the levels found in other bottled waters due to the leaching of water-soluble silica from volcanic rock. (4) In fact, beverages contribute to more than half of the total dietary intake of silica, and the silica content of water depends entirely on its geological source. Silica can also be found in trace mineral supplements, such as ConcenTrace Trace Mineral Drops, which can be added to plain drinking water.
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, plays a vital role in cell metabolism as a coenzyme in energy producing reactions involving the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, as well as anabolic reactions such as fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis. (4) The deficiency of niacin is rare these days, but was fairly common historically due to the reliance on niacin-poor food staples, such as corn and and other cereal grains, in low-income communities. (5) Pellagra, the disease of late stage niacin deficiency, causes a variety of skin symptoms such as dermatitis and a dark, scaly rash. In fact, the word “pellagra” comes from the Italian phrase for rough or raw skin. (6) The skin symptoms are often the first to appear, and may be exacerbated by even a slight deficiency in niacin over a long period of time.
While a low intake of niacin is unlikely, there are some diseases that may cause inadequate niacin absorption from the diet. An example of this is in celiac disease, where absorption is impaired by the swelling and thickening of the intestinal lining that occurs in celiac disease. (7) Other inflammatory gut conditions such as IBS or Crohn’s disease can also lead to a reduction in niacin absorption, and could conceivably lead to the skin-related symptoms of pellagra such as dermatitis and scaling.
Good whole-foods sources of niacin include meat, poultry, red fishes such as tuna and salmon, and seeds. Milk, green leafy vegetables, coffee, and tea also provide some niacin to the diet. Your liver can also convert tryptophan from high-protein foods like meats and milk into niacin. (8) In the case of true deficiency, supplementation may be necessary, but for most healthy people, a varied diet with adequate meat consumption should be enough to meet one’s nutritional needs. If choosing to supplement, be sure to consult with a licensed medical professional, as too much nicotinic acid can be harmful.
I’ve written before about the incredible health benefits of a diet rich in vitamin K2. Vitamin K2′s role in the body includes protecting us from heart disease, forming strong bones, promoting brain function, supporting growth and development and helping to prevent cancer – to name a few. It performs these functions by helping to deposit calcium in appropriate locations, such as in the bones and teeth, and prevent it from depositing in locations where it does not belong, such as the soft tissues. One of the health benefits of vitamin K2 not often discussed is its role in ensuring healthy skin, and this vitamin is likely beneficial for preventing wrinkling and premature aging.
Adequate dietary vitamin K2 prevents calcification of our skin’s elastin, the protein that gives skin the ability to spring back, smoothing out lines and wrinkles. (9) This is because K2 is necessary for activation of matrix proteins that inhibit calcium from being deposited in elastin fibers and keeping these fibers from hardening and causing wrinkles. In fact, recent research suggests that people who cannot metabolize vitamin K end up with severe premature skin wrinkling. (10) Vitamin K2 is also necessary for the proper functioning of vitamin A- and D- dependent proteins. As I discussed in the first article in this series, vitamin A is essential for proper skin cell proliferation, and cannot work properly if vitamin K2 is not available. Therefore, vitamin K2 is important in the treatment of acne, keratosis pillaris, and other skin symptoms of vitamin A deficiency.
It’s important to get adequate amounts of dietary vitamin K2, particularly if trying to heal the skin or prevent wrinkles. Great sources of vitamin K2 include butter and other high fat dairy products from grass-fed cows, egg yolks, liver, and natto. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and cheese are also quite high in vitamin K2 due to the production of this vitamin by bacteria. It is important to note that commercial butter and other dairy products are not significantly high sources of vitamin K2, as most dairy cattle in our country are fed grains rather than grass. It is the grazing on vitamin K1-rich grasses that leads to high levels of vitamin K2 in the dairy products of animals, so be sure to look for grass-fed dairy products when trying to increase your intake of vitamin K2. (11) A great all-around supplement for skin health is Green Pasture’s Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Butter Oil blend. It has a great mix of vitamins A, D, K2, and omega-3s in the proper ratios to help maximize skin health, especially in people with acne.
Probiotics are one of the most fascinating areas of modern nutrition research, and a topic I am passionate about. I will be discussing what is known as the “gut-brain-skin” axis during my presentation upcoming at the Weston A. Price Foundation Wise Traditions Conference in November, and have been researching the connection between gut flora and skin conditions for months. While there is a great deal of information on the skin-gut axis, I’ll give a quick summary of the information in this article – the rest you’ll have to see in my presentation in a few months!
The skin-gut axis has been studied since the 1930s, and yet we’re only just beginning to understand the role that probiotics may play in skin health. The ability of the gut microbiota and oral probiotics to influence systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, glycemic control, and tissue lipid content, may have important implications in skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and psoriasis. (12) Recent studies have shown that orally consumed pre and probiotics can reduce systemic markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, which may help reduce inflammatory acne and other skin conditions. (13, 14, 15) There is also a connection between small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and the incidence of acne, suggesting that reestablishing the proper balance of gut microflora is an important factor in treating acne.
There are far more beneficial effects of probiotic bacteria for skin health than I will be able to mention in this article; I will cover the topic much more in-depth at the conference in November. However, I believe the evidence strongly supports the role of probiotics in treating a variety of skin conditions, and recommend that anyone suffering from skin trouble be especially diligent about including fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and kefir in your regular diet.
Probiotic supplements can also be helpful—but be careful, because not all probiotics will be beneficial for skin conditions. As I’ve mentioned, many people with skin conditions also have SIBO. SIBO often involves an overgrowth of microorganisms that produce a substance called D-lactic acid. Unfortunately, many commercial probiotics contain strains (like Lactobacillus acidophilus) that also produce D-lactic acid. That makes most commercial probiotics a poor choice for people with SIBO.
Soil-based organisms do not produce significant amounts of D-lactic acid, and are a better choice for this reason. In my clinic, I have great success with a product called Prescript Assist when treating skin conditions. You can purchase it here. Other popular choices include Gut Pro from Organic 3 and D-Lactate Free Powder from Custom Probiotics. I used these in the past, but have much better success with Prescript Assist so I now use that exclusively.
Well that’s the end of the “Nutrition for Skin Health” series! As a quick recap, the top whole-foods nutrients I recommend as part of any skin-healing diet are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Vitamin E
- Pantothenic Acid (vitamin B5)
- Vitamin K2
I hope this information has been helpful to you, and I would love to hear any success stories from readers who have treated their skin conditions using nutritional changes!