It was the shrimp.
We were in Bangkok and in the executive lounge of an international 5-star hotel, enjoying a glass of wine and some small bites, including the offending shrimp crudité. Eight hours later, I was doubled over in the bathroom, popping the pre-prescribed antibiotic I had gotten from my doctor back home just for this scenario. It was a new, stronger antibiotic created to combat the highly resistant strain of bacteria prevalent in Thailand. Three months later, after daily doses of Greek yogurt, my gut finally felt like it had returned to normal, no longer cramping up at the slightest drop of food.
Fast forward a year, where I spent two weeks in Turkey, feasting on the local cuisine, which included loads of yogurt at every single meal. Not only did I not have any gastrointestinal issues, my skin looked amazing: hydrated, supple, without a blemish or clogged pore in sight.
Needless to say, these were eye-opening experiences that convinced me that what we ingest has a direct correlation to how our skin looks. “By treating the skin from the inside out, you are supporting the structure and function of the skin,” says Corina Crysler, a nutritionist, natural health product expert, and founder of GliSODin Skin Nutrients. And since inflammation — which contributes to all manner of skin maladies like premature aging, hyperpigmentation, acne, wrinkles — is an internal process, in order to get at the root of the problem, she adds, it has to start from the inside.
While it seems that the focus of the beauty industry has always been on topicals — creams, lotions, and serums — as opposed to ingestibles, “research connecting the influence of nutrition on skin has actually been around for some time,” says Paula Simpson, a biochemist and holistic beauty and nutrition expert who also co-founded ZSS Skincare Solutions. “We can trace it back to the 1950s when dermatology research looked at the correlation of nutrition and its effect on common skin conditions such as acne.” But it’s only over the last two decades that nutrition-focused clinical studies have really ramped up, she adds, with more sophisticated methods and longer periods of observation.
“There are skeptics because many nutricosmetics are really not formulated for the skin, so they don’t deliver results,” says Crysler. “Nutricosmetics often are described as ‘supplements,’ but unlike supplements, they are not intended to supplement deficiencies in the body; rather, they are designed to have highly targeted benefits to the skin, improving its health and appearance.” Vitamins and minerals in general don’t do much for skin health, she adds, because they are required for so many other reactions in the body, the skin is the last to get them. The key, she says, is to look for products with clinical studies showing their ingredients actually improve skin health.
Do oral supplements really work?
So are supplements the new miracle cure? Dr. Christopher Calapai, an osteopathic physician board certified in family medicine and anti-aging medicine, says take your supplements with a grain of salt (not literally). Though he believes in taking them, especially if your diet isn’t textbook perfect (“Research shows taking a well-balanced multivitamin throughout your lifespan helps fill in nutritional gaps in your diet,” he says) he adds that there are little to no studies to show that certain oral supplements — like ones with hyaluronic acid, collagen, or co-Q10 — actually help with anti-aging or skin health.
Here, we break down of some of the more popular supplements.
- Probiotic bacteria: Probiotics are amazing for your gut and provide absorption and digestion support, says Dr. Calapai. But make sure the probiotics are living, functioning cells, warns dermatologist Carl Thornfeldt. “Dead cells are pro-inflammatory.”
- Antioxidant supplements (like resveratrol or berry extracts): Antioxidant supplements are excellent for the body, according to Dr. Calapai. “They decrease free radical damage of the tissues and help to support heart health and your immune system.” In particular, “a high enough dose of resveratrol, which stimulates sirtuins for nocturnal nucleic acid repair, has been shown to improve aging tissues and prolong the life of cells,” says Dr. Thornfeldt.
- Biotin: Beneficial for hair health.
- Vitamin D: Supportive of the immune system, neurologic function, and bone stability.
- Vitamin E: A great antioxidant helping to support heart heath.
- Hyaluronic acid and collagen: Hyaluronic acid and collagen are supposedly beneficial for your joints, but unfortunately, there is no real study that proves this to be true, says Dr. Calapai. They’re metabolized in the digestive tract, so they’re very unlikely to provide anti-aging effects, says Dr. Thornfeldt. “Rather, glucosomine as a precursor to hyaluronic acid in the body has been studied and was reported to have anti-aging benefits.”
- Co-Q10: Although co-Q10 will support heart, brain, and mitochondria function and health, there is no proof that it will help with visual changes to your skin, says Dr. Calapai.
Sip your way to clearer skin
A recent study presented at the American Academy of Dermatology found that by drinking two cups of organic spearmint tea a day can actually reduce acne lesions by 25% after one month and by 51% after three months. “It has been known for years that mint had a calming effect on inflamed skin and would also treat some skin infections,” says dermatologist Dr. Carl Thornfeldt. “It has now been documented that spearmint is the most potent of the different mints in killing skin disease causing bacteria and yeasts.”
The study is groundbreaking because the herbal therapy was compared to 100 mg of prescription minocycline taken once daily. After three months of use, minocycline reduced the number of acne lesions by 52% but induced side effects in about 20% of the patients, whereas spearmint tea induced no side effects. “This is one of the first studies proving that herbal medicine skin disease comparable to a mainline prescription therapy,” says Dr. Thornfeldt.
So how does spearmint tea work? “Adult acne is caused by abnormal, excessive inflammation that is induced in 68% of adult women by a yeast called malezzeza furfur yeast, along with excessive amounts of a certain bacteria in the skin,” says Dr. Thornfeldt. “Recent research suggests that the abnormal sebaceous gland function (what we see as the acne lesions) is a protective response to the inflammation and microbial insults. Therefore, the spearmint tea is effective due to its active ingredients, including flavonoids (anti-inflammatory), menthol (anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-yeast, anti-fungal, and anti-viral), limonene (antibacterial, anti-yeast, anti-fungal, and anti-viral), and rosmarinic acids (antibacterial, anti-yeast, anti-fungal, and anti-viral). The spearmint tea works on all the processes involved in driving adult acne.”
In addition to spearmint tea, Dr. Thornfeldt recommends 500 mg of niacinamde twice a day to help fight acne, along with zinc picolinate three times a day and 2,000 IUs of vitamin D. He also recommends taking vitamin B6 every day of menstruation. “Vitamin B6 binds to the receptors that are activated by hormones that drive the menstrual cycle,” he says. “If one continues the vitamin B6 after 60 days, the human tissues add more receptors, and the existing receptors become saturated, thus Vitamin B6’s efficacy wanes.
Tips for taking supplements
- Clean up your diet. Start by removing high allergen, processed, difficult-to-digest foods to allow the body to rest and rebalance gut health. “Many chronic skin conditions are correlated with digestive health (i.e. leaky gut syndrome, food allergens, harmful bacteria overgrowth) that can depress skin immunity and offset normal skin function and structure,” says Paula Simpson, a biochemist and holistic beauty and nutrition expert who also co-founded ZSS Skincare Solutions.
- Be patient. “Cycles of skin cell renewal occur approximately every four weeks, though as we age or when skin is unhealthy, normal renewal cycles tend to become more sluggish and out of balance,” says Simpson. “When supplementing with a nutricosmetic, it is important to understand that the visible results will take longer than that of a topical treatment, but the results are also cumulative. If a product is formulated correctly, then improvements and results can be seen as early as two to four weeks. At three months, the results are generally fully achieved.”
- Consult with your doctor first. This is especially important if you have an illness or you’re on medication.
Ready to try some ingestibles?
Here’s a look at some promising nutricosmetics and supplements.
GliSODin harnesses a bioactive form of superoxide dismutase (SOD), a powerful enzyme that neutralizes the most dangerous of free radicals, that has been shown to survive stomach acids, allowing it to be absorbed in the small intestine and actually utilized by the body, says Crysler. Numerous studies have shown its efficacy in anti-aging, fighting hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase, and even boosting the effect of retinol. GliSODin Skin Nutrients Advanced Skin Brightening Formula, $85, glisodinskin.com
Why are Usana’s probiotics, which contain 12 billion colony-forming bacteria per serving, in powder form? “The simple answer is stability,” says John Cuomo, Ph.D., executive director of product development and technology. “Probiotics are live bacteria that need special care in formulation.” To that end, the Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG and Bifidobacterium BB-12, two strains clinically proven to survive the harsh acidic environment of the stomach, are processed to have excellent stability at room temperature for up to two years. “ Tablets and capsules just don’t offer that protection, especially once the bottle is opened.” On a personal note, I took these packets with me to Spain and Morocco recently, and religiously took one every day. On the last couple of days, I ran out, and bam! I got food poisoning. Coincidence? I don’t know, but I’ll be taking these with me on my next trip overseas. Usana Probiotic, $30, usana.com
“Clinical studies have found that those with acne- prone skin have higher levels of oxidative stress in the body and a sluggish antioxidant and skin defense network,” says Simpson. To get to the source of acne, the carotenoid antioxidant zeaxanthin, essential fatty acids, supportive botanical antioxidants, and a unique pre- and probiotic blend work internally to neutralize damaging free radicals and oxidative stressors, while rebalancing gut health and the skin microbiome. A supplementary serum works synergistically to hydrate and protect. ZSS Clear Skin System, $129-$159, zss-skincare.com
Bebe & Bella relies on international research to tout both topical and oral probiotics working in conjunction for skin health. Topical probiotics are easily absorbed into skin, boosts hydration and cell regeneration, and negates bad bacteria, says COO Linda Krebs, while their oral supplement includes collagen peptide, hyaluronic acid, and their patented probiotic Lactobacillus casei, which was tested to be superior to 80 other strains. “Our lactobacillus strain is well tolerated by most people and has a superior ability to survive the gastric acids in the stomach and to colonize in the intestine.” BeBella Collagen Pro, $31.95, bebeandbella.com
The first USDA certified organic sea buckthorn company harnesses wild-grown Himalayan sea buckthorn berries, which are rich in vitamins E and A, flavonoids, SOD, omegas-3, -6, -9, and the rare omega-7. The synergistic effect of all that good stuff translates into a boost to immunity, antioxidant protection, even brain, heart, and liver support, according to the company. What it means for your skin is serious hydration, a decrease in inflammation, and lightening in hyperpigmentation. SeabuckWonders Sea Buckthorn Oil Blend, Omega-7 Complete, $29.97, seabuckwonders.com
Originally published in Composure Magazine.