JUST as the eye may be the window to one’s soul, so is the skin a window to one’s nutritional status. The skin is just one of several parts of the body that is scrutinized during a physical exam or medical check-up. Because in essence, whatever is brewing inside our bodies is bound to come up to the surface one way or another. In medical terms, this is called “manifestations.” Among the most common skin manifestations that give away signs of nutritional deficiencies or compromise — more commonly known as “malnutrition” — are acne, eczema, dry skin (xerosis), and atopic dermatitis.
Nutritional deficiencies that may be indicated by the skin are mostly a lack in essential fatty acids (omega-3, DHA, EPA), Vitamin K and B vitamins, such as niacin (B3), folic acid (B9), riboflavin (B2), pyridoxine (B6), and cobalamin (B12).
Essential fatty acids — the omega-3 series being the most well-known — are so named because these are fats we need to have in our diet since our body is unable to produce them. They are vital in maintaining brain health, fetal growth and brain development, and reducing inflammation in the body (anti-flammatory) to prevent heart disease. Yes, we do need fat; the good kind. Also, since the skin has a lipid (fat) layer, it needs these essential fats to maintain its integrity and healthy glow.
Rich sources of omega-3s are walnuts, flax seeds, and monggo beans.
Fatty fish and fish oil supplements are common, however, fish sources of omega-3s aren’t highly recommended as these also tend to have high mercury content and unhealthy fat considering how fish are farmed now.
Sardines would be a better choice as a source of omega-3. If you love salmon and tuna, make sure to limit consumption of these to twice a week only, to limit mercury consumption.
Vitamin K plays a key role in blood clotting, preventing excessive bleeding. Deficiency of this vitamin is rare in adults as this can be produced from bacteria in our large intestine. Deficiency is more common in infants. However, high alcohol intake (drinking more than two bottles a day) and absorption problems in the digestive tract — such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut — can put you at a high risk for deficiency. As with all other vitamin supplementations, it is important to note that excessive intake may interfere with medications such as blood thinners (Coumadin), antacids, aspirin, antibiotics, statins and drugs for cancer. Vitamin K can be obtained from dark leafy greens and vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, spinach, green beans, eggs, meats and cheeses.
B vitamins are essential in energy production and metabolism so these are most likely depleted when one is fatigued or sleep-deprived. Thus, when a person has been on a graveyard shift, the skin tends to be dry and dull. Rich sources of B vitamins are mostly from grains, beans, legumes and meat.
Basically, if you notice anything unusual about your skin — whether it be scaly and dry, discoloration or thickening in any particular area — you may need to see your Physician for recommended tests, as well as a Nutritionist-Dietitian to guide you in correcting any nutritional deficiency through your diet. Because, food is the best medicine!