Nutrition & Your Skin

After yesterday’s post on oils and how they can be used internally or externally for your health, I got some good questions:

What oils should I be using if I have oily, not dry, skin?


I always get zits 10 days before my period – would changing my diet help?

Nutrition and your skin are very closely tied. To simplify it, anything that goes into your body must also come out in some way, shape or form. That could be through urine or bowels, through your mouth, or through your skin. Acne is often indicative of a body that is rejecting a certain type of food, whether it be something you’re allergic to or something that is foreign to the body such as hydrogenated fats or high fructose corn syrup. Acne in teenagers is usually due to a combination of things: hormone stimulation, bacteria production, stress and poor diet. In adults, it is more likely to be a result of mainly stress and poor diet.

For someone with oily skin, taking a fish oil supplement can still help. Skin problems often are a result of inflammation, and the omega-3s in fish oil help to fight this inflammation. There are many studies showing that fish oil has significantly improved acne symptoms in people, including symptoms like oily and splotchy skin. The omega-3 fats have a balancing effect that can help those with oily or dry skin. And as a bonus, it reduces wrinkle formation and helps create shiny hair and healthy nails! Flaxseed oil has also been shown to help reduce oily skin.

Some other skin-supporting nutrients to try, whether you have oily skin, dry skin, or are getting blemishes before your period, include B-vitamins, beta-carotene, essential fatty acids, fiber, selenium, vitamins A, C and E, zinc and water. Eliminating common allergens such as gluten and dairy for the week you are experiencing inflammation on your face can greatly reduce acne occurrence as well. Even if you are not allergic to gluten or dairy, you could still have a mild intolerance. Other things to eliminate if you want to clear up your skin include alcohol, excessive caffeine, and any processed foods – especially those that contain sugars, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Any fried foods will definitely increase the likelihood of blemishes or skin issues as well. I recommend doing an experiment. Try eliminating all of these foods for one week or 10 days, and see what happens. Then, as your reintroduce them, observe the changes in your skin and the rest of your body. This is the best way to find out which foods are affecting you, and how.

Water is particularly important, because it helps rid our body of unwanted toxins through our urine, bowels, or sweat. Without enough water, these toxins will stay inside of our bodies and find another way to come out – often times through our skin in the form of acne. So, stay hydrated!


Oil Supplements for Health

Fish Oil

When most people think of oil supplements, they think of fish oil. It has become very popular, and is recommended for many different people due to its wide array of health benefits. Fish oils contain EPA and DHA, which are omega-3 long-chain unsaturated fatty acids. They have anti-inflammatory benefits, have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol levels, and even can help reduce triglyceride levels and blood-clotting potential. For all of these reasons, fish oil is an important supplement for those who are more prone to cardiovascular disease or who currently suffer from things like high cholesterol or high triglycerides. But the benefits of fish oil go beyond cardiovascular disease prevention and support. Fish oil can also help with joint pain, dry eyes, dry or blemished skin, flexibility, asthma, and more. Although these same health benefits are found in many types of cold-water fish, most of us don’t eat enough cold-water fish so the supplements help. I recommend fish oil for most people, in addition to including high-quality cold-water fish in the diet.

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is another popular supplement. We frequently use ground flaxseed in our smoothies or yogurt. It can be beneficial for those suffering from obesity, because it helps increase arterial blood flow. Flaxseed oil contains the building blocks for omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but our bodies must do the conversion themselves to obtain full benefits. Some research suggests our bodies do not efficiently make this conversion, and therefore we should consume other types of oils where the conversion is already made (such as fish oil). I think flaxseed oil is still a great part of a well-rounded diet. It helps with dry skin and is easy to use in smoothies, salad dressings, or on top of cooked veggies.

Wheat Germ Oil

Wheat germ oil can be beneficial for internal use or external application to burns, sores, scars, and other skin problems. Its high vitamin E content helps to protect the health of the skin. I’ve had many knee surgery patients in my family, and vitamin E is always a main component of post-surgery care. Since vitamin E is a strong antioxidant, wheat germ oil is more stable than other oils. However, I’d still recommend keeping it in the fridge, just to be safe.

Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil comes from the seeds of a primrose plant and contains high amounts of GLA, which is similar to omega-6 fatty acids. This plant has been used medicinally for hundreds of years, both externally for skin problems and internally to treat things like asthma, digestive issues, gynecological problems, and to help with wound healing. Some even consider it a “cure-all”. More recent research has revealed even more benefits of evening primrose oil, such as arthritis pain relief, PMS relief, help with eczema, anti-inflammatory effects, and help with cardiovascular disease and allergies. I haven’t tried evening primrose oil personally, but a few of my teachers have brought it up in class as being an amazing oil and recommend keeping it in the house.

These are just four oils that can be used therapeutically as well as for every day nutrition. I love foods like this, because it’s almost as if your refrigerator is also your medicine cabinet – a very appealing thought, at least for me. I recommend just giving one or two of these a try if you believe you could benefit from them. The great thing about using nutrition as medicine is there are rarely any side affects!


Storing Your Oils

Yesterday’s post about water was spurred by the sudden onset of summer and heat in Denver. I immediately began to feel more dehydrated, and wanted to remind you guys to drink lots of water this summer! Another reminder: don’t forget to store your oils properly, especially in the warm weather.

I’ve mentioned that certain things such as heat, air, mechanical refinement, and light can destroy the original nutrients and properties of many oils. Oils are expensive, and people tend to have a few different types on had at any given time. So, it’s important to keep them fresh. When oils go rancid, they form free radicals and oxidize. At some point in the process they are doing more harm than good inside our bodies. Often we cannot taste or smell the rancidity of our oils because many oils are so highly refined and deodorized that everything is masked.

Saturated fats are the most stable fats and are not as susceptible to oxidation as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Oils higher in saturated fats include coconut oil, butter and lard. These types of oils should be solid at room temperature, but liquefy when exposed to heat. As many of you may remember, I am a huge fan of coconut oil and recommend using it for higher heat cooking or baking (and for weight loss, gut health, and many other things!). I used to keep my coconut oil in the cabinets, because our house stayed cool enough to keep it solid. However, when we were out of town for a week and Denver temperatures got really high, it started to liquefy. When I got home, I had liquid coconut oil. I put it in the fridge just to be safe, but generally it’s okay to leave coconut oil in the cupboard. You can read about the full benefits of coconut oil here.

Butter is another stable oil with a smoke point of about 350 degrees F. It is not as sensitive to heat and light as other oils. However, butter should still be kept in the fridge to prevent it from going rancid. If you keep your butter in a fancy butter dish, get one that will block the light. Many people don’t like to keep their butter in the fridge because they want it nice and soft when the time comes to spread it on their fresh bread or warm toast. But keeping it out of the fridge for extended periods of time can make it spoil. So, what is the solution? Well, when doing research on butter, I came across something that intrigued me: the French butter keeper.

Apparently this kitchen gadget keeps butter in a small pot immersed in cold water. It can be safely left on the counter because the cold water keeps it fresh, yet still soft enough to be spreadable. Cool! I may be adding this to my wish list.

Extra virgin olive oil is destroyed by both heat and light, and is better used for salad dressings or adding flavor after cooking than for the actual cooking. Appropriate cooking temperatures depend on how much the olive oil has been processed. Oils that are more highly processed can be used at higher temperatures, but that’s just because their nutrients have already been destroyed in the refining process and so there is less for the heat to destroy. Good quality olive oil should not be used at temperatures above 200-250 degrees F. If you are cooking vegetables or pasta sauce or something else that absolutely must have that olive oil flavor, just add some after the cooking is finished – I do it all the time and it tastes great and you still benefit from the healthy fats. Olive oil should definitely be stored in the fridge. It is cool and dark, so it’s an ideal home. Depending on the temperature of your fridge, the olive oil may harden in there. This is fine and will not ruin the oil. Just run it under a little water to bring it back to its liquid form.

Other oils that I keep in the fridge include walnut oil, sesame oil and grapeseed oil. The fridge typically cannot hurt your oils, and it’s better to be safe. The more we can protect our high-quality, expensive oils, the more nutrient benefits we will receive from them. Another tip: buy your oils in smaller quantities (sorry, Costco) because they should be consumed rather quickly. Opinions differ, but I’d try to consume your oil within a few months of opening it. If oils are unopened, they can probably sit for 6 months in the fridge without losing many nutrients.

Now that we know the basics of storing oils, we are ready to introduce new oils into our diets! Tomorrow I will talk about some oil supplements that are used therapeutically for different reasons, and how they can benefit and support health.


Dehydration & ADH

It’s officially summer, which means more time spent working in the garden, more activity for kids who are out of school, and lots of sunshine and vitamin D.

It’s a good time to revisit dehydration, because with the increased heat and activity in summer, we all should be drinking a little bit extra water. You can read all about the importance of staying hydrated here. Today, I want to talk about antidiuretic hormone (ADH) and what it does to our bodies.

ADH, also known as vasopressin, is produced in the hypothalamus (brain) and stored in the pituitary gland (which is connected to the brain). When it starts to sense dehydration inside our body, ADH is released and tells our kidneys to conserve water. Our urine production slows, allowing our body to retain water so we don’t become too dehydrated. Urine will be more highly concentrated in salts and other waste, making it a darker yellow or orange color. This is one of the many amazing ways our bodies are able to protect themselves in times of need. Without ADH, our bodies would shut down sooner due to dehydration.

However, chronic dehydration can lead to too much ADH being released, which leads to excess water retention. With high levels of ADH, constriction on our blood vessels is also increased. The constriction of blood vessels is another way for our body to prevent water loss, through sweating and respiration. However, this leads to more pressure on our arteries, which causes higher blood pressure readings. Sometimes when someone begins drinking more water, they are able to lower their blood pressure readings.

So, consider this your reminder to stay hydrated all summer long. This applies to kids, adults and elderly people. Let your kids go pick out cool new water bottles to carry around with them. Keep a couple bottles of water in your car in case you get thirsty while running errands. Staying hydrated will help keep you energized and healthy so you can fully enjoy your summer!


Nutrition for Healthy Ears

Right now we are learning about the special sense organs: sight, hearing, balance, taste and smell. These are all senses that tend to weaken as we age, so it is important to do whatever we can to keep them healthy. And as you probably can guess, nutrition is one of the best ways to do this. I’m going to talk about ears, because I found the nutrition information particularly interesting.

Our ears have two main purposes: hearing and equilibrium. Both the external ear and the middle ear are involved purely in hearing; the inner ear, however, includes sense organs for both hearing and balance. The tiny bones of the middle ear absorb sound vibrations and send them to our inner ear, which then connects the sounds with our brain to receive a message. There are receptors in the inner ear that send information to our brain about the position of our head at certain times. Our brain then uses this information to keep us balanced.

These equilibrium receptors of the inner ear are called the vestibular apparatus. Vestibular training, then, means “exercising” or strengthening your vestibular apparatus so it is more effective in keeping you balanced. Kids tend to do much more vestibular training than adults – cartwheels, somersaults, headstands, and just general play. This helps them to develop their sense of balance and equilibrium, and gives them strong balance as they reach teenage years. Since most adults do very littler vestibular training, balance is more difficult for them. This is why things like yoga, pilates and other forms of balance training are so important. These activities are especially beneficial to elderly people, because falling is riskier for them. Their bones are more frail and they are more likely to break something if they fall.

Some people get wax buildup in their ears. Some amount of wax is normal and healthy – it protects your ear canal and ear drum from foreign substances that may enter the ear. Too much earwax, however, can cause hearing loss, pain, or other sickness such as a bad cough. Healthy earwax is fluid and soft, and should be easy to remove if it starts to build up. When earwax is thick or crusty and hard to remove, it may be sign that someone’s omega-3 to omega-6 balance is off because they have consumed too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3 fatty acids. Food sources of omega-6s include vegetable oil, other plant-based oils, and lean meats. Since so many of our processed foods are cooked in vegetable oil, Americans tend to get more omega-6s than omega-3s in their diets. Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, soybeans, halibut, shrimp, tofu and scallops.

Many small children are prone to ear infections. Chronic ear infections are often a result of a diet high in foods that create mucus buildup, such as sugar, caffeine, dairy products, eggs, wheat, refined carbs, beer, and anything that contains food additives. Often times the child may be allergic or have an intolerance to one of these foods, and the earache is just a side effect of this. When parents remove wheat, dairy and processed foods from the child’s diet, ear infections often improve significantly.

Have you ever experienced a temporary ringing in the ears? This is often a sign of a B-vitamin deficiency. It can also be caused by a very low-fat diet. Since the nerves in our ears (and throughout the rest of our body!) must be wrapped in fat for protection, a low-fat diet can sometimes lead to hearing loss or ringing in the ears.

If you or someone you know has hearing loss, ear infections, or other ear issues, a mucus cleansing diet can be very helpful. This includes a large amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, and little or no processed foods, refined carbs, sugar, alcohol or caffeine. A lemon and ginger tea can also be helpful in clearing up mucus. Ginkgo biloba has also been used for hearing loss with some success.