Some Surprising Causes of Skin Aging
“I suppose when there’s no more room for another crow’s-foot, one attains a sort of peace?” —Ronald Firbank, Valmouth
Although I would someday like to achieve this sort of peace — preferably when closer in age to the fictitious centenarian who uttered the words above — my immediate goal is to keep my skin smooth and wrinkle-free. True, wrinkles are a natural part of aging, but certain lifestyle choices can bring them on sooner, and it’s not just what you think. Avoiding excessive sun exposure and alcohol consumption, not smoking and getting enough sleep are all important, but put down that Krispy Kreme and read on as I delve deeper into some lesser-known causes of wrinkles and premature aging that just might surprise you.
Diet (The triumvirate: sugar, wheat, PUFAs)
Or to be more precise, S.A.D, a.k.a., the “standard American diet”, which is based on processed convenience foods full of the worst skin (and health) wreckers—sugar, wheat and unhealthy fats—while being devoid of valuable skin boosting nutrients.
Regarded by most as a harmless indulgence, sugar is a primary cause of aging and its myriad physical manifestations, including wrinkles (and saggy, baggy skin). Far from harmless, however, sugar forces your blood sugar level to skyrocket, which triggers a process called glycation. The sugar molecules bind to the protein fibers of the dermis (collagen and elastin) making them brittle and prone to damage.
Over time, this causes the skin to sag and crease as it loses elasticity. And it gets worse: glycation causes the damaged proteins to create dangerous new molecules appropriately called AGE (Advanced Glycation End products), which build up in the body and lead to more inflammation and accelerated aging. By eliminating refined sugar from your diet you can vastly improve the tone, texture and radiance of your complexion.
Wheat is another major culprit in wrinkle formation. Why? Let me count the ways: it is a blood sugar level elevator and pro-inflammatory agent sui generis, is difficult to digest and blocks the absorption of vital nutrients. I was shocked to learn that two slices of whole wheat bread raises blood glucose levels more than a candy bar. Wheat contains a unique type of carbohydrate called amylopectin-A which can spike blood sugar even higher than pure table sugar. Elevated blood sugar leads to — you guessed it — inflammation, AGE production and rapid aging.
Some of the proteins found it wheat, most notably gliadin and glutenin, are hard for the human digestive system to break down. Most commercially prepared wheat products are made from refined wheat, which is sorely lacking in nutritional value. Ditch the wheat and see your overall health and skin improve.
Next on the list of wrinkle creators are industrial vegetable oils (soybean, corn, cottonseed, etc.). Also known as PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids), these highly processed, unnatural oils wreak havoc on your health and beauty. Due to their molecular structure, polyunsaturated oils are highly unstable and are susceptible to rancidity. Rancid oils undergo a toxic change called oxidation, which stimulates aging throughout the body.
Oxidization creates free radicals — atoms with an unpaired electron. According to the free radical theory of aging, these unstable atoms attack collagen and elastin, promoting wrinkle and age spot formation. Avoid these abominable oils like the plague; they are found in just about all processed foods. Instead, use healthy traditional oils such as extra virgin olive oil, fresh butter from grass-fed cows and my favorite, extra virgin coconut oil. Healthy fats nourish your skin from the inside and keep premature wrinkles and liver spots at bay.
One more word of advice: go outside and enjoy some sunshine. This is not a joke; maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D is critical to skin health. I’m not suggesting that you bake in the sun for hours — that would give you wrinkles! Most people need 20-30 minutes in the sun to generate 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 (calcitriol). Vitamin D plays a vital role in skin rejuvenation, as it regulates the renewal of your skin in specialized cells known as keratinocytes. The vitamin D dependent cells in this layer produce the underlying structural support matrix for skin tissue, which allows the epidermis to retain moisture and preserves skin firmness and resilience. Vitamin D also strengthens the immune system and destroys the aforementioned free radicals that lead to premature aging.
Of course, always protect your face and hands when you’re exposed to the sun and limit yourself to the recommended time — don’t overdo it and never let yourself burn. Be sure to eat foods that are rich in vitamin D, such as wild salmon, organic eggs, mushrooms and cod liver oil.
Reduce or better yet, remove sugary, pro-inflammatory foods from your diet, maintain optimal vitamin D levels and you’ll enjoy better health and slow down the aging process. I, for one, look forward to decades of graceful aging before achieving the sort of peace that comes with a full complement of crow’s-feet.
- Dr. Fredric Brandt, 10 Minutes/10 Years: Your Definitive Guide to a Beautiful and Youthful Appearance
- Dr. William Davis, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Way Back to Health,
- Dr. Mary Enig, Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol
- Dr. Michael Holick, The Vitamin D Solution, www.drholick.com
- Dr. Nicholas Perricone, Forever Young: Debuting the Metabolic Diet, www.perriconemd.com/a-closer-look-into-forever-young-by-dr-perricone