In Japan, there is a saying that “food is the best medicine.” Women in China believe that the most effective way to grow healthy hair is to eat foods that strengthen the kidneys. The application of shea butter (which is edible) onto the skin for hydration and to help reduce discoloration is a centuries-old African tradition. It was Hippocrates who first stated “Let food be your medicine.” However, cultures around the world, from ancient to modern times have embraced that eating well may help to impart better health and beauty.
Clearly, the best source of vitamins and minerals for healthy physiology and improved overall wellness is whole, natural foods. The critical question has to do with bio-availability. After food is processed through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, how much of its nutrients are delivered to end organs and target cells? If a product containing actives from food believed to promote healthy skin, would those actives penetrate beyond the skin’s barrier so as to be effective but not irritating? Studies abound; however, the general consensus is that whole foods provide the highest potential bio-availability. Yet, we live in an environment that seems to deplete internal energy stores as well as nutrients. Stress, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise, among other factors, contribute to our relative malnutrition. It is reasonable, therefore, to consider supplementing our diet, as a complement to exercise and stress management techniques. This is perhaps where nutraceuticals and nutricosmetics may play a role.
There are a plethora of foods (or ingredients from foods) that is thought to have a beneficial effect on skin health and beauty wellness. These include, but are not limited to salmon (omega-3 fatty acids), oysters (zinc), sweet potatoes (beta-carotene), tomato (lycopene), walnuts (vitamin C), and dark chocolate (polyphenols, antioxidants). Nutraceuticals are oral supplements (as pills, powders, or liquids) that contain such foodstuff as active ingredients with the aim of improving skin.
Nutricosmetics are similarly marketed but may be found as makeup or topical skin care products. The advantages of using such products are cited by proponents include radiant skin, even skin tone, and improved over all clarity. Nutraceuticals such as Glisodin Skin Nutrients Advanced Brightening Formula contains lycopene, citrus bioflavonoids, and borage seed oil to soothe irritated skin. Nonetheless, despite the purported benefits of such products, the scientific community at large is still skeptical about the bio-availability of nutraceuticals, and hence, of the end result. Are the ingested supplements overly broken down during the digestive process? Are the breakdown products as effective as the intact ingredients? Is too much of a good thing harmful?
The questions, for now, remain. Nevertheless, for those who lead active and stressful lives lacking in proper nutrition, (supervised) supplementation may be one of the ways to improve health and beauty form the inside out.
Dr. Shirley Madhère is a plastic surgeon who practices “holistic plastic surgery” in New York City. She is an Associate Adjunct Professor of Surgery at New York Eye, Ear and Throat Infirmary. For more information regarding her practice and for additional tips on beauty and plastic surgery, please visit her website, http://www.thenewaesthete.com or http://www.drshirleymadhere.com.