Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Time to Rethink Antioxidants? May 1, 2013

Filed under: Diet and Skin,Ingredients — askanesthetician @ 7:33 am
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More foods are being marketed as high in antioxidants despite their questionable health benefits.

Last week I once again addressed the issue of antioxidants and free radicals as they impact the skin.  Today I thought I would give my readers a little food for thought  (pun intended) when it comes to antioxidants and our health, in general, and not just how it relates to our skin (even though this is a blog about skincare).  This post is a little off topic from the information that my blog usually contains, but I thought the information below was worthwhile to share, nonetheless.

Recently I came across a few articles that explain how consumers are being mislead when buying grocery products that claim to contain antioxidants.  The article Radical Thinking on Antioxidants from The Chicago Tribune explains:

Antioxidant-rich products promise an easy way to stave off disease. Simply swallow two softgels daily or knock back a glass of goji-pomegranate juice and the “supercritical” compounds will neutralize those nasty free radicals that threaten your health.

Such bold claims seem logical. There’s evidence that free radicals, or oxidants, are involved in certain illnesses, including cancer and degenerative brain diseases.

And when oxidants turn up in our bodies — it happens when we turn food into energy or are exposed to infection, smoking and other triggers — we fight back by producing antioxidants that can soak them up like a sponge.

Thus a theory was born: Maybe oxidation and disease can be prevented by eating fortified foods or taking dietary supplements containing plant-based antioxidants, which include vitamins C and E, beta carotene and polyphenols (flavonoids).

But researchers now say antioxidants have been overhyped and widely misunderstood. Scientists haven’t determined how antioxidants work in our bodies; it’s also unclear whether dietary supplements have any beneficial effect. In some cases, studies suggest antioxidants may cause more harm than good.

One recent study found that antioxidant compounds caused fertility problems in mice. Though popular among athletes, antioxidants haven’t been shown to improve performance or speed recovery. To the contrary, supplementing with antioxidants may blunt the beneficial effects of working out. And while some dietary antioxidants may have a role in cancer prevention, excessive doses of some vitamins can aggravate illness or even cause it, researchers say.

“People should be aware that there is little to no data supporting the use of antioxidants to protect against disease,” said cardiologist Toren Finkel, chief of the Center for Molecular Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Yet “antioxidants” remains one of the hottest buzzwords in the health and wellness industry.

Manufacturers have emblazoned it on everything from water and cereal to alcoholic drinks. Last year hundreds of products with antioxidant claims were launched, and products containing the nutrients continue to be a strong area of development, said Carlotta Mast, editor in chief of newhope360.com, which tracks the market in natural, organic and healthy products.

In the U.S., sales of top antioxidant supplements hit $5 billion last year, up 2.3 percent over 2009, according to Nutrition Business Journal.

“Consumers have made an association between antioxidants and health,” said Mast. “They have a general understanding that antioxidants help with free radicals, and they know free radicals are bad. So they see a functional beverage that’s ‘rich in antioxidants’ and think, ‘This will be healthy for me.'”

A natural byproduct of eating, drinking and breathing, free radicals are an unavoidable hazard of living.

“Oxygen oxidizes our food to produce energy, and the oxygen is reduced, mostly to water,” said biochemist Barry Halliwell, a pioneering researcher in free radicals and disease. But some oxygen winds up as free radicals, unstable molecules that are missing an electron.

Desperate to regain its balance, a free radical will steal an electron from the nearest substance, whether it’s cellular DNA, protein or fat. The theft alters the structure of the nearby victim, creating another unstable compound and triggering a chain reaction.

In response, our bodies naturally produce antioxidants that, like bodyguards, defuse free radicals by donating electrons while staying in balance themselves — a system people can strengthen through regular exercise.

But aging and exposure to environmental stressors from sunburn to pollution make it harder to keep up with antioxidant production, said Amy Howell, an associate research scientist at the Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research at Rutgers University.

For example, X-rays create oxidative stress because “radiation splits the water to make free radicals,” said Halliwell, a deputy president of the National University of Singapore. And “cigarette smoke is already full of free radicals that attack the lungs and other parts of the body.”

Researchers have known for decades that diseases including heart disease, cancer, stroke and neurodegenerative disorders are linked to damage caused by free radicals. They also found that people who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables have lower rates of disease.

As a result, they hypothesized that taking antioxidants as supplements or fortified foods could decrease oxidative damage. But when antioxidant compounds were tested, the results were largely disappointing.

Beta carotene supplements didn’t just fail to protect people against cancer, they increased the risk of lung cancer in smokers. Trials looking at cardiovascular disease, other cancers and strokes have been mixed, but most haven’t found the hoped-for benefits. When Ironman triathletes supplemented with vitamin E for two months, it exacerbated oxidative stress and inflammation.

Meanwhile, free radicals aren’t always bad. The oxidant hydrogen peroxide, for example, can help open blood vessels; removing it with antioxidant therapy can impair the body’s ability to get oxygen to muscles.

There’s also some evidence that what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger: A little short-term free radical damage may activate pathways in the body that are protective in the long run, Finkel said.

“The real debate is whether we should let the radicals do their thing and not get in the way,” said David Neiman, director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University. “Probably 90 percent of all people who exercise will do fine with a fruit- and vegetable-based diet. But those who engage in more stressful exercise — marathoners, ultrarunners and Ironman triathletes — may need extra help.”

Consumer Reports goes into further detail about how antioxidant foods can be over-hyped to the detrement of the consumer (from the article Antioxidants: More Is Not Always Better).  The article busts several myths about foods and antioxidants such as:

MYTH: Packaged food with labels touting antioxidants will boost your health.

Antioxidant claims on packaged food don’t always mean a health benefit. “Unfortunately, ‘antioxidant’ is a very loosely used term,” says Joy Dubost, Ph.D., a nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Outside the lab, it has become more of a marketing term than a scientific term.”

Some food manufacturers add an antioxidant, such as vitamin C or E, and then label the product as containing antioxidants, presumably in hopes of boosting sales. Kellogg’s FiberPlus Antioxidants Dark Chocolate Almond bars, for example, have 20 percent of the daily value of vitamin E and zinc. But they also contain 7 grams of sugar and 5 grams of fat. You can avoid processed food and eat an ounce of dry-roasted almonds, which provides more vitamin E, and 3 ounces of lean beef, which has more zinc.

Some food manufacturers even advertise antioxidant “power,” represented by ORAC, or oxygen radical absorbance capacity values. But ORAC measures antioxidant activity in a test tube, not in the human body. So if you’re tempted by Mystic Harvest Purple Corn Tortilla Chips, which are supposed to have an ORAC score of 6,000, don’t be. “We don’t know what these values mean biologically,” Dubost says, but they don’t guarantee better health.

A class-action lawsuit filed in November 2012 against the makers of 7Up Cherry Antioxidant Soda claimed that the packaging and marketing could lead consumers to think that the antioxidants in the soft drink come from fruit, when they really come from added vitamin E, and a 12-ounce can provides only 15 percent of the daily value.

Another class-action lawsuit, filed in April 2012 against Hershey, alleges that the chocolate giant makes “misleading” and “unlawful” claims regarding antioxidants. For example, certain packages of Hershey Special Dark Kisses state that “Cocoa is a natural source of flavanol antioxidants.” While cocoa is a reasonable source of antioxidants, the suit alleges that many—if not all—of Hershey’s cocoa or chocolate products undergo alkalization, a process that reduces or virtually eliminates the flavanol content.

Both companies have publicly denied any wrongdoing. The maker of 7Up Cherry Antioxidant said that in a decision unrelated to the lawsuit it has produced a new version of 7Up Cherry without antioxidants.

After reading the above articles I began to wonder if the same findings might eventually come out in regards to topically applied antioxidants in skincare products and the fight against free radicals when it comes to skincare.  As I write this I haven’t seen anything that would contradict the advice that estheticians and dermatologists continue to give – that using a sunscreen with antioxidants or a serum with antioxidants is a must in order to keep your skin healthy and to stave off free radical damage.  It will be interesting to see in the future if this advice changes just as advice about consuming antioxidants in our food has changed.

Further Reading:

Image from The Chicago Tribune

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Foods That Prevent Skin Cancer? July 26, 2012

My newest skin obsession is finding out how the foods we eat impact our skin both positively and negatively.  Recently I came across the following information about foods that may help prevent skin cancer.

According to Prevention magazine (August, 2012, page 26):

Supplements – including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from berries, green tea, red wine, and dark chocolate – may help protect against skin cancer, a recent spate of studies show.  “Regularly drinking green tea or adding antioxidants in the form of vitamin E or beta-carotene may be helpful, although topical use shows greater promise,” says Andrew Weil, MD, director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.  “Compounds found in grapes (resveratrol); berries (ellagic acid); cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, and brussel sprouts; garlic; onions; and the spice turmeric also show promise for general cancer prevention.”  But the effects are modest, Dr. Weil says.  Preliminary studies also suggest that Heliocare, an oral supplement made from South American fern plants, may boost the body’s defense against sun damage slightly, but it’s very expensive.  So don’t forget the sunblock!

And drinking caffeinated coffee may help prevent certain types of skin cancer as well:

Drinking more cups of caffeinated coffee could lower a person’s risk of developing the most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, according to a recent study published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“Our data indicate that the more caffeinated coffee you consume, the lower your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma,” said Jiali Han, associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston and Harvard School of Public Health.

Han and his colleagues conducted a prospective analysis of data from the Nurses’ Health Study, a large and long-running study to aid in the investigation of factors influencing women’s health, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, an analogous study for men.

Of the 112,897 participants included in the analyses, 22,786 developed basal cell carcinoma during the more than 20 years of follow up in the two studies. The results revealed a decrease in the risk for basal cell carcinoma as coffee consumption increased. Similar results were seen with other caffeinated products such as tea, cola and chocolate. Caffeinated coffee also reduced risk for other serious conditions such as type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

However, consumption of decaffeinated coffee was not associated with a decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma, the study found. Also, neither coffee consumption nor caffeine intake were associated with the two other forms of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

Still, Han said more studies in different populations are needed before the group can make a “definite” determination on the impact of caffeine on these serious health conditions.

(Skin Inc.Study Says Caffeinated Coffee Decreases Skin Cancer Risk)

At least now I know my morning coffee is protecting my skin instead of hurting it, and I’ll continue to drink my green tea in order to help my skin.

 

Is an Alkaline Diet Good for Your Skin? June 7, 2012

I recently wrote a post that asked the question – is a vegan or vegetarian diet bad for your skin? – and concluded that no, neither of those diets are bad for your skin but sugar is.   Since I try to keep up with the latest information about all things skincare related I recently read an article in MedEsthetics magazine profiling dermatologist Jeanette Graf, MD.  In the article Dr. Graf talks about the skin benefits to following an alkaline diet:

Jeannette Graf, MD, is a well-known researcher and expert injector in the medical aesthetics arena, but more recently she has focused her career on creating great skin from the inside out.  Her theories are based on research that suggests that eating more alkaline-producing foods (versus acid-producing foods) offers optimal internal health, leading to glowing, healthy skin.  She recommends a 3:1 ratio of alkaline-producing foods to acid-producing foods when preparing meals.

Alkaline-Producing                                         Acid-Producing

Olive oil                                                                        Alcohol

Citrus fruits                                                                 Soft Drinks

Berries                                                                           Red Meat

Vegetables                                                                   Salmon

Sea Salts                                                                        White sugar

(page 49)

Furthermore, Dr. Graf explains how she became interested in the whole idea of an alkaline diet as a diet that would positively impact the skin (pages 49-50):

[Dr. Graf] came across a Noble Prize-winning study by Dr. Otto Warburg.  The study involved culturing cancer cells and normal cells in two different environments – one group he grew in a high oxygen, alkaline medium; the other he grew in a high acid, low oxygen medium.  “What he found was in the conditions with the high acid, low oxygen, the cancer cells grew like crazy and the normal cells could not survive,” says Dr. Graf.  “But in the alkaline medium with high oxygen, the normal cells grew beautifully and thrived, whereas the cancer cells could not survive.  That said to me, we need to be alkaline.”

Alkalinity is the basis of Dr. Graf’s book and also a key component of her practice.  “Internal to external is major for me and I talk about diet to everyone, because I want them to be alkaline.  I’ll even take out pH strips and test them,” she says.  “Every patient who comes into my office gets a lecture on what she should and shouldn’t eat.  We should be treating diet like a medication, and having a great lifestyle is all part of it.  And we heave to lead by example and start incorporating it into our practice.  Fortunately, I think we’re starting to see more of that.”

Once I read this information I realized that I read something similar in Kate Somerville’s book Complexion Perfection! .  In Chapter 4: Beauty and the Buffet, Somerville relates a story about her father-in-law Dave Somerville and how he started following an alkaline diet after receiving a cancer diagnosis (pages 44- 45):

Four different doctors presented treatment options such as surgery and radiation, but Dave decided to go with a different approach.  He’d always been interested in nutrition and alternative health, and when a friend recommended a naturopathic doctor in San Diego, he found what he was looking for: a doctor who “laughs at cancer.”  I was nervous; in fact I honestly thought at first that it was a mistake.  Yet this is where I first learned how dramatically nutrition can impact the skin.

Dave’s treatment regimen focused on organic foods, a range of immunity-boosting supplements, and drinking nothing but purified water – lots of it.  Most important, he maintained an alkaline environment in his body, the basis of his naturopathic doctor’s protocol.  Dave ate foods that alkalized his body and minimized those that acidified it, helping maintain his body in a healthy pH range and reducing disease-causing acid waste in his system.  The theory (one not supported by the traditional medical community) is that cancer cells don’t grow in alkaline environment.

My father-in-law was completely committed to this program, and in less than a year’s time, his cancer disappeared.  Total recovery. I know this sounds unbelievable, but the strategy miraculously worked for him.  I’m telling you this story here in this book because of the other changes I saw – changes in his skin.  I couldn’t believe it, but I actually saw brown spots and sun damage disappear from Dave’s face, in the same way that the cancer vanished.  From a clinician’s perspective, I thought, This is impossible.  I’d never seen anything like it in my life.  Generally, when people in my line of work see sun spots and pigment issues, we treat them with topical peels, usually aggressively, and topical products.  I was blown away, because Dave’s skin glowed.  I mean, it literally glowed.  To this day, he stays very close to the parameters of the diet, and looks a decade younger than his actual years.

To be sure, the choices my father-in-law made were fairly extreme, and he was absolutely dedicated to the strategy.  However, I cannot deny the impact that this diet had on his health and his appearance.

If you are thinking of switching to a more alkaline diet what exactly should you eat?  And how does this diet actually work?  According to the WebMD article Alkaline Diet: What to Know Before You Try It:

The theory of the alkaline diet is that eating certain foods can help maintain the body’s ideal pH balance to improve overall health. But the body maintains its pH balance regardless of diet.

For instance, your diet may affect the pH level of your urine. But what you eat does not determine your blood’s pH level.

What’s in the Alkaline Diet

The alkaline diet is mostly vegetarian. In addition to fresh vegetables and some fresh fruits, alkaline-promoting foods include soy products and some nuts, grains, and legumes.

Web sites promoting the alkaline diet discourage eating acid-promoting foods, which include meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, processed foods, white sugar, white flour, and caffeine.

The alkaline diet is basically healthy, says Marjorie Nolan, RD, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman.

“It’s a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of water, avoiding processed foods, coffee, and alcohol, which are all recommendations for a generally healthy diet anyway,” Nolan says. “But our body regulates our pH between 7.35 and 7.45 no matter how we eat.”

Potential Benefits

Diets that include a lot of animal protein can lower urine pH and raise the risk forkidney stones. So eating a diet rich in vegetables, as with an alkaline diet, can raise urine pH and lower the risk for kidney stones, says John Asplin, MD, a kidney specialist who is a fellow of the American Society of Nephrology.

Researchers have speculated that an alkaline diet might slow bone loss and muscle waste, increase growth hormone, make certain chronic diseases less likely, and ease low back pain. However, that hasn’t been proven.

There is also no concrete evidence that an alkaline or vegetarian diet can prevent cancer. Some studies have shown that vegetarians have lower rates of cancer, particularly colon cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. But vegetarians often have other healthy habits, such as exercise and abstaining from drinking and smoking, so it is difficult to determine the effects of diet alone.

“Clinical studies have proved without a doubt that people who eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and hydrate properly do have lower rates of cancer and other diseases,” Nolan tells WebMD, “but it probably has nothing to do with blood pH.”

Because there is no evidence that diet can significantly change blood pH, a highly irregular blood pH is a sign of a larger problem — perhaps kidney failure — not a dietary issue.

People with kidney disease or medical issues that require monitoring by a doctor, such as severe diabetes, should not attempt this diet without medical supervision.

“If someone’s blood sugar is not being monitored properly — especially if they’re on insulin if they’re type 1 or they’re a severe type 2 diabetic — you’re potentiallyrunning the risk of your blood sugar dropping too low after a meal if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Nolan says.

It all comes down to balance, Asplin says. The alkaline diet could potentially over-restrict protein and calcium.

“Vegetarians can be completely healthy in their diets as long as they make sure to get adequate supplies of essential components to a diet. But it is also true that many Americans over-consume protein and get much more than they actually need,” Asplin says.

If you do want to follow a more alkaline diet here are some tips from the Live Strong website:

Which foods fall into the alkaline category is not always obvious. For example, a lemon, which you would probably consider acidic, becomes alkaline when digested and hence falls into the alkaline category. Choosing alkaline foods may at first, therefore, require research. The alkaline diet closely resembles a vegan diet, in that you arrange your meals around plant-based foods rather than meat, the reverse of the typical Western diet. To ensure that you absorb important nutrients, plan to eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Foods to Include

Alkaline foods should comprise about 75 to 80 percent of your diet. The foods to include in an alkaline diet menu include most vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and whole grains. To determine what foods belong to the long list of alkaline vegetables, the Macrobiotics Cooking with Linda Wemhoff site suggests choosing leafy, round root and sea vegetables. In the extensive alkaline fruit category, she recommends tropical- and temperate-climate fruits. Everyday Diet recommends flax, sesame and sunflower, among other seeds, and spelt and sprouted grains. Fresh water, herbal teas, almond milk and wine are considered examples of alkaline beverages.

Foods to Avoid

Acidic foods should comprise no more than 20 to 15 percent of your diet. Foods to avoid on the alkaline diet are meats, dairy, shellfish, saturated fats, hydrogenated oils, processed foods, refined grains and sugars, and artificial and chemical products. In addition, the Health and Rejuvenation Research Center advises avoiding preserves, canned fruits and dried sulfured fruits and various vegetables and beans, including asparagus tips and garbanzo beans. Limit alcoholic beverages and coffee.

Bottom Line:  If this diet interests you I suggest reading more about it.  You can find numerous books about an alkaline diet on amazon.   Most of the sources I read suggested trying to consume 80% alkaline foods and 20% acidic for your overall health.  In the long run I could see how a diet like this would benefit both your skin and your health.

Sources and Further Reading:

Doing research for this post turned out to be very informative and interesting.  I learned a lot!  If you have the time check out the sources below for a lot more information about the alkaline diet.

Image from www.alkalinesister.com

 

 
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