The bittersweet truth about cake and the cutis.


(Did you see what I did there? Bittersweet, and then Cake pluss Cutis = Skin?.. It's been a long day....)

Let me start this post off with a confession: “I, Rolah - of, am a cakeoholic, and ever recovering desert addict”.  (Proof of which is found in the picture above).

I don’t want anyone to feel bad about their passion for puddings, or put an end to their chocolate-relationships; but I do feel the need to further enlighten you all about a subject that is very close to my heart; namely the impact of food on our skin.

I’ve been having a good ramble on about the effects of diet on our skin already, just have a look here, and here, and I’m not about to stop now! I recently reviewed the effect of diet on acne, as that is perhaps the skin disease mostly associated to diet, but in fact, research is now pointing a firm finger towards the connection between diet and premature skin-aging, as well as to other skin diseases.

In this post I’ll give a short summery of the ways in which your diet can affect your skin other than resulting in acne or breakouts. And here comes the bad news, the main perpetrator and skin-criminal is non- other than our favorite Mr. Sugar.

When we eat sugar, sugar molecules bind to proteins and fibers in our body through a process called glycation. Most vulnerable to damage are: collagen and elastin, the protein fibers that keep skin firm and elastic. In fact, collagen is the most prevalent protein in the body. Once damaged, springy and resilient collagen and elastin become dry and brittle, leading to wrinkles and sagging. Glycation products also increase inflammatory mediators by activating certain molecules within our cells, and as I’ve mentioned before, inflammation is bad news for everything, including our skin.

The presence of glycated proteins also makes the complexion more vulnerable to other aging perpetrators such as UV light and cigarette smoke. As New York–based dermatologist Cheryl Karcher, MD, puts it: "Number one, the glucose makes the cells abnormal; and number two, it creates free radicals. So you get a double whammy when it comes to aging."

To an extent, glycation is a fact of life. It's happening right now, to all of us. It can even be measured: The cross-links formed between sugars and proteins emit a fluorescence, which scientists can capture using Visia complexion-analysis cameras.

The external signs of glycation show up around the age of 30 or 35, when a perfect storm of built-up sun damage, environmental oxidative stress, hormonal changes, and the development of glycated proteins begins to result in all those signs we associate with aging and older looks. "When you're younger, your body has more resources to ward off damage, and you're producing more collagen," says New York– and Miami-based dermatologist Fredric Brandt, MD, who in 2007 was one of the first to launch an anti-aging skin-care line specifically addressing glycation. "When you reach a certain age, these sugar by-products begin to build up at the same time that your threshold for damage is getting lower."

Its not only refined sugars you should fear, but grains, fruits and other starches also turn to glucose after digestion, causing the same type of glycation seen after eating a snickers bar, although not as fast and intense. But, and here’s some good news: Even if we could completely eliminate all types of sugar from our diets, we shouldn't: It's an essential fuel for cells and energy metabolism, critical to survival. For most people with normal levels of glucose, the glycation process is something that happens gradually over the course of a lifetime, and it's really not that big of a deal, but how soon we start noticing those changes are related to our lifestyle choices, of which diet is a big determinator. If we add smoking and pollution to the equation, we’re just screaming out for saggy cheeks, and wrinkled foreheads.

While glycation can't be completely stopped, it can be slowed. From a dietary standpoint, avoiding white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup—which studies have shown increases the rate of glycation by 10 times, compared with glucose—and simple carbs is a no-brainer. "Even though all carbs get converted into sugar, when you eat the good ones, like brown rice and whole-grain bread, you get less glucose, and you get it more slowly," Karcher says. Brandt also recommends taking supplemental carnosine, an amino acid that has been shown to protect against AGE buildup.

From Prohelath: L-Carnosine by Now Foods (500mg, 50 Vcaps) L-Carnosine by Now Foods (500mg, 50 Vcaps)

Superstar and multitasker- green tea has been proven to significantly interfere with the glycation process while stimulating collagen synthesis—so if you're using a product containing green tea (or drinking it regularly), you're already protecting your skin. "Anything that stimulates the fibroblasts to build new collagen is going to help eradicate damage," Brandt says, Retinoids (have a look at my post about retinoids including my fav. products HERE) also fall into this category. "Since your body has a process where old collagen is broken down by enzymes and new collagen is generated, what's going to happen is that the old glycated collagen will eventually be eliminated and replaced by un-glycated collagen."

In addition to skin-aging and acne, seborrheic dermatitis, a disease in which skin breaks out in flaky yet fatty and inflamed patches, often on hair covered areas such as the scalp, or eyebrows, have been associated with a high consumption of sugars.

The same relationship has been documented in regards to another skin disease: Psoriasis, which is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune skin and systemic disease, in which the skin cells replicate too fast and are shed at a higher rate, forming flaky plaques. In a recent study it was found that psoriasis had a higher occurrence in people with poor diets, consisting of high carbohydrate, caffeine, and saturated fat consumption. These foods when avoided, resulted in lessening of the symptom load, and the addition of higher vegetable and fruit content further improved the patients- life quality. Many psoriasis patients also have an intolerance to gluten, and have shown to benefit from a diet low in gluten containing grains.

Atopic dermatitis, another chronic inflammatory skin disease, commonly known as: Eczema, is another disease which have been associated to improvement under special dietary regulations. In case of this disease all foods with a high histamine content (including otherwise healthy foods), such as red wine, chocolate, sausage, pork and peanuts where avoided, resulting in beneficial results for those partaking in the study. There have also been proposed that a low glycemic -diet might also better the disease progression, although more research is needed to validate this claim.

Diet is fast becoming an increasingly important part of medicine, not only in regards to prevention of systemic diseases such as heart disease, but also in regards to improvement of both systemic and skin diseases, as well as skin aging! It's exciting I think, that we as patients hold some power over the illnesses we are dealt, as well as over our general appearance as we get older. Diseases will persist, and we will eventually all age and look it, but the rate at which we reach our wrinkles, and the effect our diseases have on our day to day lives might be modulated by our own diet and lifestyle choices towards them. That is excellent news me thinks! And although I'm not ready to say bye-bye to my cake, I do try to cut down on my everyday sugar intake, and compensate with high antioxidant foods and teas as often as possible. It's better to be safe, than sorry, right? And with a proper diet, regular exercise, and a good skincare routine , I see no problem in having my cake and eating it too.

- Rolah


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