The skin is a mirror of the gut and mind. In functional medicine, symptoms are divine messages from the body. It’s our job together to decode them, not rush to a new pill or cream. We need to identify the root cause and then create a protocol to heal that cause. The same rule applies whether the issue is acne, eczema, rosacea, wrinkles, weight gain, rapid aging, or diabetes. Symptoms of zits, redness, inflammation, dry skin, brittle nails, tangled hair point to an imbalance that yearns to be addressed. In my book, glowing skin reflects inner biological harmony.
Food is information, a code interpreted by your gut, cells, immune system, and DNA. In simplest terms, functional medicine seeks to add inputs that create balance and remove inputs that take the body out of balance. Most of us need more minerals and antioxidants to keep our skin gorgeous and radiant, reflecting an inner state of harmony. Plain and simple, minerals detoxify you, and most of us are low in the key minerals for the skin, including zinc, sulfur, and silica. How do you know? Take a good look in a mirror with natural light. Gently pinch your skin. If it doesn’t bounce back, your collagen may be lacking, leading to poor elasticity. If you see redness and bloating in your face, you may be inflamed. If you have zits, you may be zinc deficient. If that information makes you want to go eat carbs, you are almost certainly mineral deficient!
These are the foods that I tell my patients to eat to provide the code for clear, glowing skin.
1. More Zinc. Zinc is essential to more than 300 enzymes in the body, affects more than 2,000 factors controlling your DNA expression, and works synergistically with vitamins to build supple skin and strong hair. That makes zinc a powerful ally in creating smoother, glowing skin. It helps the body make new collagen and remove damaged collagen, so it’s a powerful nutrient in the prevention of wrinkles, stretch marks, sun damage, inflammation (acne, rosacea), pigmentary disorders (melasma), infection (warts), hair loss, and even neoplasms (basal cell carcinoma). Many people who suffer with acne are deficient in zinc, and dermatologists have used zinc therapy internally and externally for centuries.1http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25120566 In functional medicine, we apply the “food first” philosophy – that means change what you’re eating before jumping to a pill, even a supplement. Eat zinc-rich foods, such as the following:
- Seeds: pumpkin, sunflower, sesame
- Nuts: cashews, pecans, macadamia, pine nuts
2. More Sulfur. Sulfur gives your skin luster and glow. It’s used to treat rosacea.2http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21925368 My friend David Wolfe calls sulfur the “world’s best cosmetic” because it’s fundamental to the health of your skin, hair, and nails. Stephanie Seneff, senior scientist at MIT, claims that sulfur deficiency is far more common than most people realize, leading to inflammation (acne, rosacea), weight gain and obesity, heart disease, arthritis, immune system dysregulation, and Alzheimer’s disease. We are in agreement that a high sulfur-containing food plan is in order.3http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26014131 In particular, you need sulfur to make glutathione, the most potent antioxidant in your body. Where do you find sulfur?
- Greens, especially those with high nutrient-density like arugula, kale, watercress
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts
- Radish (black, daikon, and red)
- Clean protein, including low-mercury fish like wild-caught salmon, organic and/or pastured beef and poultry
- Hemp seeds
- Bee pollen
- Blue-green algae (I like E3 Live)
- Maca (especially good if your estrogen is low)
3. More Antioxidants. Your skin will age faster if you don’t strike a balance between oxidation and antioxidants.4http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24994069 That means getting vitamins A, C, and E from food. Lack of vitamin C can lead to progesterone deficiency and estrogen dominance, which makes you at greater risk of rosacea and autoimmune conditions.
- Drink green tea, an antioxidant powerhouse due to the high concentration of catechin compounds. Green tea is used orally and externally to protect the skin from sun damage and cancer, and has been shown in studies to reduce redness and broken capillary veins. Dose: one cup once or twice per day.
- Eat carrots, spinach, and dandelion for vitamin A.
- Fruits are the best source of vitamin C: cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, mango, papaya, pineapple, berries, watermelon.
- To get vitamin E: eat more sunflower seeds, almonds, turnip greens, tomatoes, and avocado.
4. More Silica. Silica or silicon is another crucial mineral that keeps your skin happy (not to be confused with synthetic silicone used for breast implants). Rudulf Steiner took it one step further, and believed that consuming foods and herbs rich in silica expands your awareness and physical attractiveness. No wonder my friends who grew up in Steiner schools regularly drink teas made with the herbs horsetail and oat straw! Silica-rich foods include the following:
- Green beans (organic has higher levels of silica from the soil)
- Romaine lettuce (tear it for higher nutrient density)
- Young greens (baby arugula, baby spinach)
- Bell peppers
- Herbs: horsetail, oat straw, majoram
- Mineral water
5. More Anti-inflammatory Fats. I take an agnostic view of diet: you don’t need to be plant-based or Paleo or an omnivore to benefit from functional medicine and my recommendations. I’m married to an environmentalist, but we eat some meat once or twice per week. I have a gene that makes me lose weight when I eat more fish, but I also like bison and organic tempeh (fermented soy beans). When it comes to fat, I love omega-3s. In fact, I spent a summer in Alaska working for the Department of Fish and Game, eating wild-caught salmon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My skin, hair, and nails were never so healthy. Here are the fats that I recommend to rock your locks and skin:
- Coconut milk (unsweetened) and oil
- Low-mercury fish (cod, salmon, halibut, tilapia) and seafood
- Pastured meats to get amino acids glycine and proline for making collagen
- Bone broth
What to Avoid
Just as important as adding foods that are rich in minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats, is to remove the antinutrient and hormone-disrupting foods, such as the following:
- Processed foods
- Sugar, and artificial sweeteners
- Dairy (some people can tolerate raw dairy or fermented dairy, but others may get acne or eczema. An elimination diet can be helpful.)
- Alcohol (sadly, it raises your level of bad estrogens, leading to rosacea, autoimmune conditions, and broken capillaries.)
- Nightshades (including tomatoes and potatoes – may cause inflammation of skin and joints, such as eczema and arthritis. Again, an elimination/provocation diet may be helpful.)
But you probably knew that already!
Taking time to heal your inner ecosystem will enhance your outer beauty. It’s an investment worth making!
Interested in learning how to prevent skin problems related to inflammation and aging? Read my book Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years (HarperOne, 2017 – available now for preorder). It explores the way your DNA changes in response to your surroundings, particularly with regard to weight loss, hormone balance, skin, and aging—and how to turn off and on the right genes.