The skin can be thought of as a window into our body. We keep this window clean and disease-free the same way we keep out gastrointestinal system healthy — by adhering to a whole food, plant-based diet. Not only is it important to consume unrefined plant foods, but also to limit intake of meat, dairy products and eggs. Evidence-based medicine suggests that the more whole plant foods we eat, the better — both to reap their nutritional benefits and to have healthier skin.
A well-balanced plant-based diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts and seeds. We not only get the full spectrum of nutrients we need from eating plants, but these foods also offer protective properties that prevent and reverse disease.
We have all heard of the proverbial “golden glow” appearance that is often equated with health and vitality. When subjects were instructed to use digital photographs of African, Asian and Caucasian men and women to manipulate their skin tone, both men and women preferred the yellow “golden glow.” Instead of using a tanning bed to achieve the golden glow, you can do it with the pigments you eat. Just as certain bird species tend to prefer carotenoid-rich caterpillars to make their breast plumage brighter yellow, a similar phenomenon is found in humans. By eating the yellow and red pigments in fruits and vegetables, like beta-carotene in sweet potatoes and lycopene in tomatoes, it is possible to naturally acquire a more golden and rosy glow.
Our ability to look and age better by eating plant-based is a direct result of the healing properties these foods have. Whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds are not only rich in fiber that protects our gut as probiotics, but also contain natural compounds called phytates. In Petri-dish studies, phytates have been shown to halt the growth of human skin cancer cells due to antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing activities. In human studies consuming citrus fruit — especially citrus peel — protects against skin cancer. Within two hours of consuming citrus, DNA becomes significantly more resistant to damage, which is another reason citrus consumption is associated with lower risk of both skin and breast cancer.
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By getting your nutrients from a whole food, plant-based diet, you will maximize your intake of nearly every required nutrient: vitamin A carotenoids; vitamin C; vitamin E; the B vitamins; as well as magnesium, potassium, iron, fiber and probiotics. Stick with whole fruits and vegetables because supplements do not appear to boost DNA repair and often have limited bioavailability. There are exceptions, as vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements may be necessary if levels are low. And, no, you do not need to drink milk to get adequate levels of vitamin D. Excess hormones such as estrogen in cow’s milk may play a role in hormone-related conditions, including acne.
By consistently consuming foods rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory mediators and immune-enhancing agents, it is possible to stop wrinkles in their tracks and have naturally glowing skin. It is also possible to reduce or prevent many skin conditions that manifest as a result of inflammation and an overly-active immune system. If you think it is too late to change your diet for the better, think again. Substances such as curcumin (bright-yellow pigment in turmeric), cardamom, phytonutrients and fiber have been shown to prevent and even halt skin cancer progressions. In summary, eating a plant-based diet has been shown to keep skin looking healthy, slow down the aging process and fight skin disease, including cancer.
Brooke Walls, D.O., owner and director of Aspen Center for Cosmetic Medicine and Dermatology, also does Mohs surgery for skin cancer at Glenwood Medical Associates. Ryan Ball is a third-year medical student at Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine, who is taking a preceptorship with Dr. Walls. Ryan is on the U.S. Military medical school track, and after finishing his training he plans on becoming an Army dermatologist. Both Ryan and Dr. Walls are plant-based themselves, and promote this lifestyle to their patients.