Eating for natural beauty is pretty straightforward, and mostly about giving your body the building blocks it needs. But when it comes to anti-aging, there are a few specific nutritional building blocks that are most important.
Essential Fatty Acids (Omega-3’s) and Aging
I wrote here on the myriad of health benefits from essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids (which are one of the two essential fatty acids) are critical for healthy cell membranes. This translates to every part of the body, including the skin. They are also anti-inflammatory, which benefits the skin as well as all other organs in the body.
This alone would be enough to rank essential fatty acids among nutrients most important to slow aging. But this study shows an even more compelling reason: omega-3 essential fatty acids actually slow the shortening of telomeres, the end bits of chromosomes that keep the DNA encased inside from fraying. Each cell division chops off a little more of the telomeres, which is why telomere length is linked to aging. If omega-3’s slow that process, they can, in a sense, slow down the clock.
The best source of omega-3 fatty acids are from fish and (grass fed, free range) eggs. While plant based sources like flax and chia do contain an omega-3 fatty acid called Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), this is not a usable form—and the body can only turn around 1-10% of it into usable EPA and DHA.
Glucose, AGEs, and Aging
High sugar consumption comes with a host of potential concerns, but from an aging standpoint, the most concerning issue involves Advanced Glycosylated End Products (AGEs). These are formed whenever a sugar molecule attaches itself to protein or fat. They accumulate with increased circulating sugar levels so reliably that HbA1c (glycated hemoglobin) is a surrogate marker for blood sugar levels over the previous three months.
Hemoglobin is not the only protein to which simple sugars attach, though; the same thing happens to collagen and elastin, contributing to loss skin suppleness and “bounce”. Certain sugars, like fructose (as in, high fructose corn syrup, among other sources) are ten times more likely to form AGEs than others.
Collagen and Aging
I wrote here on how collagen can benefit sagging, aging skin. But quick recap: cells called fibroblasts take amino acid building blocks (glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine) and turn them into collagen. While you can certainly take all of these amino acids individually, a hydrolyzed (pre-digested) version of collagen is a more efficient way to supplement with them, and has been shown to translate to more collagen production in the body.
Food sources of collagen include eggs, poultry, and bone broth. Meat of course contains the amino acid building blocks necessary for the body to produce sufficient collagen, as well.
Vitamin C and Aging
Finally, Vitamin C is critical to combat skin aging. High concentrations are found in the skin’s top two layers (the dermis and the epidermis), and like collagen, the concentrations decline with age. As an anti-aging nutrient, it works on multiple levels:
- It acts as an antioxidant defense against oxidative damage to the skin (such as from ultraviolet light, or smoking), and the demand for Vitamin C in the skin increases when such damage occurs.
- It is necessary for the formation of collagen from its foundational amino acid building blocks. This is both because it stabilizes collagen mRNA (the blueprint the body uses to make collagen in the first place), and also because it increases production of fibroblasts, the cells that actually do the work of putting collagen together.
This study shows that the Vitamin C taken orally (as a supplement) does in fact make it to the top most layers of the skin, where it can combat the effects of aging. This study shows that dietary Vitamin C intake translates to improvement in skin wrinkles and elasticity, while this study shows that Vitamin C can also be effective (though less so) with topical application.
Food sources of Vitamin C include dark green veggies, citrus fruits, and bell peppers.
A balanced diet low in sugar and processed carbohydrates, and rich in grass-fed, organic animal products, wild caught fish, and colorful veggies is best to combat aging skin. This article discusses how this looks in more detail.
If you’re looking for supplements to help, EPA/DHA (fish oil), Vitamin C, and grass-fed collagen are your best bets.
And if you want to take the whole process one step further, consider adding microneedling with platelet-rich plasma (PRP) for even better anti-aging results!