Can foods make you look younger?

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

June 2006

You may not be able to make your biological clock run backward but you sure can make it run more slowly! How young, vigorous and healthy you appear depends on many factors and most of them reveal themselves in your skin, hair and nails. The key to looking good therefore, is in these structures.

Fat and protein definitely affect the appearance of your skin. Most Americans are aware of how an excessive intake of saturated fat leads to obesity but not everyone knows that there are some fats that we absolutely must have in order to retain good health, to function normally and to simply look good. I'm referring to the essential fatty aids, linolenic and linoleic, without which our brains and immune system simply stop working. These are building blocks to the more complex forms of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Most of us get too little omega-3s and too much omega-6s.

Omega-3 fatty acids make your skin look better by improving circulation and reducing ultraviolet ray damage to the skin. You can increase your intake of omega-3 fats by having a few extra servings of fish every week. Salmon, sardines and mackerel are among the best choices and are less likely than large fish such as sword and tuna to have worrisome levels of mercury. Flaxseed, walnuts and green, leafy vegetables provide omega-3s as well but in smaller amounts.

Protein, which comes in millions of forms, is the main building block of every cell in the body and is important in maintaining healthy-looking skin. Protein deficiency that is bad enough to produce obvious changes in the skin, hair and nails is rare in a normal population but mild deficiency is common in the elderly and may lead to subtle changes. Younger individuals, who usually get plenty of protein, are rarely deficient but those who diet excessively may be. One serving a day of fish, skinless chicken or other lean meat and a few ounces of low fat dairy products or legumes provide enough protein to prevent deficiency. A well-rounded diet requires several other sources of protein such as nuts, eggs, soy products and whole-grain cereals.

Although vitamin deficiency that is severe enough to produce skin abnormalities is very uncommon, most Americans don't have a consistently adequate intake of most vitamins. That's why the American Medical Association recommends that everyone should take a multivitamin/multimineral supplement every day. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants and thus protect the skin from damage by free radicals that hasten wrinkling.

You can improve your overall health as well as your skin by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. These contain thousands of phytonutrients that our bodies evolved to use in order to function properly. Humans became adapted to a diet that was extremely varied by today's standards and that was no accident of nature.

There is no single magic food for staying young but there are several that taken together on a regular basis will help you to look nearly as good in your golden years as in your youthful ones.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.