If you are what you eat, then incorporating the right foods into your diet could help you achieve a clear complexion and skin that looks and feels great.
Food is DNA and information, and every time we make a choice to put something into our mouths, we are choosing between health or harm. When we see patients at Parsley Health suffering from acne and other skin disorders, one of the first things we do is address diet and any underlying food sensitivities.
Conventional SKIN treatments
The skin is the largest organ in the body and is one of our main sources of detoxification through its pores. The skin requires many nutrients and processes to function optimally and unfortunately, many doctors and patients have been conditioned to look at each organ system as being separate from one another.
At Parsley Health, our doctors understand that every organ is affected by the other and view the body as a whole. One example of this is “the allergic triad”, a well-documented syndrome which includes allergies, asthma, and eczema. While conventional medicine acknowledges that these three conditions are associated with one another, the treatments generally consist of medications that suppress the immune system in each of the affected areas: the lungs, nasopharyngeal mucosa, and the skin.
Our doctors know that in any syndrome or expression of illness, there are usually underlying root causes that can tie them all together. The majority of the time, if there is a skin-related problem, the root cause can be traced to a digestive problem, detoxification disorder, or a mental/emotional issue that hasn’t yet been addressed.
During our 75 minute initial visit at Parsley Health, we dig deep into our patients’ histories to undercover the underlying causes of their symptoms. We come up with a plan that includes recommendations on nutrition, exercise, relaxation and spirituality, supplements, lab testing, and sometimes medications.
For skin conditions, just like in any other type of condition, there are particular foods and nutrients that can specifically aid in recovery.
Five foods for healthy skin.
1. Small, fatty fish
Sardines, anchovies, and wild-caught salmon.
These fish contain a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which are highly anti-inflammatory. Since almost every skin condition has an inflammatory component, fatty fish can certainly reduce redness and/or itching associated with some of the most common skin conditions that we treat, including acne, eczema, or psoriasis.
A randomized control trial from 2008 which was published in the British Journal of Dermatology, showed that after 20 weeks of daily supplementation with 5.4 grams of DHA, a fatty acid found in fish oil, there was significant improvement in symptoms and IgE blood levels in eczema patients, as evidenced by improved SCORAD (severity scoring of atopic dermatitis) index (1). Omega-3 fish oils can also help decrease depression, which has also been linked to excessive inflammation (5, 6).
We frequently see patients at Parsley Health who have some kind of emotional or mental disturbance at the same time as an exacerbation of their skin condition. This correlation is well-documented and there is even a field of study dedicated to understanding it called psychodermatology, or psychocutaneous medicine. It’s important to understand that the mind-skin connection is real and should also be considered (7).
When deciding what types of fish to consume, it’s important to remember to eat small fish as opposed to large ones. Large fish spend their lives eating smaller fish, causing them to accumulate mercury. Mercury, a byproduct of fossil fuels and industrial waste, is a neurotoxin even in minuscule doses, and can accumulate in our own bodies if we consume too much of it. For the complete list of fish to avoid see the guide from the Natural Resources Defense Council (8).
A superfood in many ways, including their support of the skin.
Carrots get their bright orange color from beta-carotene, which is readily converted into vitamin A by the liver. Carotenoids and vitamin A are potent antioxidants that prevent oxidative damage of the skin from UV radiation. They also aid in the production of rapidly dividing skin cells.
Vitamin A deficiencies can occur for many reasons including low dietary intake or problems with fat absorption. Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, dietary fat is required in order to be properly incorporated into the body. You could consider pairing carrots with hummus as a vitamin A rich, delicious snack.
At Parsley Health, we sometimes use high doses of beta-carotene or vitamin A in supplement form for patients with more serious skin conditions, like cystic acne. It’s important to note that taking high doses of these supplements have been associated with birth defects and should only be done with your doctor, however, if you’re getting these nutrients solely through carrots and other fruits and veggies, there’s no need to worry.
The body will only convert as much beta-carotene to vitamin A as it needs, and carrots have never been associated with any birth-related complications. Eating a lot of carrots can cause carotenodermia, a harmless condition that turns the skin’s color slightly orange.
One powerful food.
In addition to its great name and taste, it provides incredible health benefits as a powerful detoxification tool and antioxidant. When the body is burdened with too many toxins from chemical exposures in our internal and external environment, these toxins can cause oxidative damage and inflammation, which frequently causes skin conditions.
Parsley also contains a super nutrient called apigenin which can aid in regulating the immune system. Apigenin has been shown to lower TNF-alpha (2), an inflammatory molecule involved in psoriasis and eczema.
There are potent medication creams and injections called biologics or monoclonal antibodies that work by inhibiting TNF-alpha’s inflammatory effects. Although generally effective, these potent drugs come with numerous side effects as they substantially decrease immune function.
Sprouts are an incredible food for detox and for your skin.
As mentioned, if toxic load is high in your body, (and if you live in a major city, we can be sure that it is), then oxidative stress will lead to inflammation and skin conditions can be worsened.
Toxins are normally supposed to be processed and filtered out of your body by your liver. If the liver is too busy dealing with excess amounts of toxins from your environment, internal or external, the body will attempt to get rid of these toxins in other ways.
One of these routes of export is through the pores of your skin. By living in large cities, we are constantly bombarded by environmental toxins in the air, water, food, and things that we touch. Broccoli sprouts are nature’s most potent source of glucoraphanin, which creates sulforaphane upon chewing, and sulforaphane helps your liver detoxify pollutants.
A 3-month long study done on 300 Chinese individuals showed that the daily consumption of broccoli sprouts increased urinary excretion of some harmful pollutants up to 61% (3).
Last and certainly not least.
It’s delicious, spicy, packed with healthy bacteria, and one of our favorite comfort foods. Not only is it good for the skin, but the capsaicin, which gives it its spicy flavor, increases your metabolism, can aid in weight loss and can alleviate IBS symptoms (4).
The gut harbors 100s of trillions of bacteria and is where the majority of our inflammatory molecules are made. If we create an environment where happy, healthy bacteria want to thrive, our immune systems will flourish. When the immune system is dysfunctional due to inflammatory bugs living in our gut, your skin will most certainly be at risk to develop inflammation as well.
The connection between the gut and skin is proven. This direct connection is demonstrated by celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis. When people with celiac disease, or gluten intolerance, eat gluten, a red, blistering, itchy rash called dermatitis herpetiformis can form. This is just one example of how gut inflammation can lead to a skin disorder.
There does not need to be a name or diagnosis given to your specific food intolerance which is connected to your skin condition in order for it to be real, as many common foods cause all kinds of problems nowadays. Working with your doctor and health coach to figure out if you have problematic foods in your diet is an important and sometimes time-consuming effort, but has huge payoffs.
Recipes for glowing complexion
Achieving clear skin
Some say that the skin is the window to what see what is going on inside of the body. Chronic skin inflammation and disease are indicative of an imbalance inside of the body and a clue that we need to look deeper into what root cause might be.
Whether the root cause is toxicity overload, gut dysbiosis or imbalance, or mental health related, the good news is that there are delicious, natural foods that can at least partially alleviate the situation. This is the core of what we practice at Parsley Health—using food as medicine, and giving the body what it needs to heal in the most natural way possible.
It’s not always the quick fix answer like a steroid cream, but it’s long-lasting, and the full body benefits most certainly outweigh the risks.
- Br J Dermatol. 2008 Apr;158(4):786-92. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18241260 )
- Biomed Pharmacother. 2017 Sep;93:1205-1212. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28738536)
- Dig Dis Sci. 2011 Nov;56(11):3288-95. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/21573941/ )
- J Clin Psychiatry 77 (12), 1666-1671. 12 2016. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/articles/27337107/)
- CNS Neurosci Ther. 2009 Summer;15(2):128-33. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19499625)