Fruits, vegetables and wrinkles

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

November 2011

A diet that is high in fruits and vegetables protects us from many of the hazards of aging, from cataracts to cancer, hypertension to hip fracture, asthma and gallbladder disease. In spite of the government's prolific pronouncements on the benefits of plant foods, more than 90 percent of Americans fail to take in the recommended 2 to 3 fruits and 3 to 5 vegetables every day. Even that percentage is misleading; tomatoes, potatoes (mostly in the form of French fries) and iceberg lettuce make up a third of our vegetable intake.

The government is going about this the wrong way, which is not all that surprising. Perhaps if more of us knew that a high intake of fruits and vegetables led to fewer facial wrinkles our dietary habits might change appreciably.

One of the benefits of eating lots of plant foods is that they provide bulk in the form of water and fiber and relatively few calories compared to refined grains and sugars. The result is likely to be less obesity, a key factor in causing wrinkles. Inflammation promotes skin damage and fat cells are a source of inflammatory chemicals.

Smoking and sun exposure are the biggest reasons why most of us resemble those Appalachian apple dolls by the time we start receiving our first Social Security checks.

The skin of smokers has high levels of an enzyme called metalloproteinase, which breaks down collagen and elastin, important proteins that support the structure and the elasticity of skin. Antioxidants of the type that are present in fruits and vegetables lower the activity of metalloproteinases and retard this breakdown. Other plant-based nutrients known as flavonoids increase the production of collagen and elastin so that wrinkling is delayed.

Antioxidants found in plant foods play another role in combating wrinkles. Radiation from the sun produces free radicals, harmful chemicals that damage DNA and accelerate the aging process, including the formation of wrinkles. Antioxidants that are present in fruits and vegetables neutralize skin-damaging free radicals.

A third mechanism involves homocysteine, a chemical that increases in the body when fruit and vegetable intake, especially folic acid, is low. Long associated with heart disease and osteoporosis, homocysteine accelerates skin aging.

If other conditions like heart disease, hip fracture and cancer aren't enough to make Americans eat better, maybe an appeal to their vanity will.

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.