Quickly: Name all the skin problems related to inflammation.
We’ll help you out. Here’s a list of some of the top skin conditions that are caused or exacerbated by inflammation:
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Sagging and bagging
- Irritation, itching
There’s more. You’ve probably heard about how chronic internal inflammation can increase risk for a number of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoarthritis, infections, digestive issues, and more.
Now we know that inflammation can also cause a number of skin problems, such as those listed above. So how do we tame this inflammation to keep skin looking it’s best? Believe it or not, we can greatly improve the situation with diet!
It’s true—what you choose to eat today could mean the difference between clear skin tomorrow or a nasty acne breakout or red rash.
What is Inflammation?
If you cut yourself, for example, your skin gets red and swollen. That’s inflammation—a sign the body’s immune system is doing its job of killing off any infectious invaders, to be sure the skin can heal properly.
A fever is also an inflammatory reaction, when your body ups its own temperature to fight off a viral or bacterial illness. In fact, any time the body senses an intruder, stress, damaging cells, irritants, or some other problem that signals something is going wrong, the immune system responds to fix it, and you have inflammation.
Short-term inflammation is good for us. It helps us heal. The problem is in today’s world, a lot of us are walking around with chronic internal inflammation—inflammation inside the body that doesn’t go away, but simmers at a low level, gradually causing damage.
What causes long-term inflammation?
A number of things can cause long-term inflammation. Here are a few:
- Failure to heal what caused the initial inflammation.
- Diseases or disorders like asthma, arthritis, gum disease, ulcers, fibromyalgia and other autoimmune diseases, and many more.
- Chronic irritants, like pollution, lack of sleep (studies have even found that poor sleep quality was associated with higher levels of inflammation), overweight and obesity, and lack of protective nutrients.
- Stress—it causes the body to release cortisol, the stress hormone, which over the long-term, can cause chronic inflammation.
- Diet—scientific studies have shown that fatty foods, fried foods, refined sugar, and refined carbohydrates can all increase levels of internal inflammation.
All of these can lead to internal inflammation—which of course, affects the skin! Things like a lack of sleep, exposure to pollutants, poor diet, and stress are especially harmful to skin.
Rescue Your Skin by Eating Foods that Fight Inflammation
You can help tame internal inflammation with the following foods. Not only will they help counteract the effects of stress, lack of sleep, and exposure to pollutants, but they’ll help provide your skin with the nutrients it needs to repair itself, as well.
- Tart cherries: In a 2012 study, researchers from Oregon Health & Science University stated that tart cherries had the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food. They had studied the cherries for their effect on osteoarthritis, and found them to help manage pain because of their anti-inflammatory abilities. You can put these abilities to work for your skin by throwing some into your smoothie or adding tart cherry extract to your supplement shelf.
- Turmeric: This super spice is currently being studied for a number of wonderful things. A key ingredient in curry, it contains a compound called “curcumin” that has been found to act as an anti-inflammatory in humans. A 2003 study review, for instance, found that curcumin inhibited a number of different molecules that play a role in inflammation.
- Hempseed oil: This oil, like many natural oils, is rich in essential fatty acids. A 2010 study found that the oil has a healthy combination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These help not only reduce inflammation, but reduce risk of heart disease, too. You can get similar benefits from other foods with healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, and olive oil.
- Walnuts: Another food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts have been found in human studies to help lower the level of inflammation in the body. Scientists can actually measure that level by testing how much C-reactive protein (CRP) you have in your blood. The higher the CRP level, the more inflammation. In the study, participants consumed an ounce of walnuts and a tablespoon of walnut oil a day for about six weeks. Results showed that they lowered their cholesterol levels by about 11 percent, LDL “bad” cholesterol by 11 or 12 percent, triglycerides by 18 percent, and that their CRP levels declined significantly.
- Yogurt: You can add kefir, sauerkraut, miso, and kombucha tea to this one, as they all contain healthy probiotics—those lovely organisms that feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. Studies have shown that not only do they improve digestion, they lower inflammation. A 2009 study, for example, reported that probiotics could actually reduce the severity of atopic dermatitis. A later 2011 study reported that participants who had inflammatory conditions like psoriasis had lower levels of inflammation after eight weeks of taking probiotics.
- Broccoli: Whether you like it or not, broccoli is good for your skin. Not only is it full of protective antioxidants, it’s a monster when it comes to reducing inflammation. A 2010 study, for example, found that eating broccoli for only 10 days cut inflammation by nearly half! CRP levels went down by 48 percent. Other cruciferous veggies, like cauliflower, have similar anti-inflammatory effects.
- Onions: You can add garlic, chives, shallots, and leeks to this one—they all were found to help reduce inflammation in a 2011 study. A 2014 study reported that garlic may act as both as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. A 2012 study found that fresh onion juice inhibited pain and inflammation. Add more of both to your diet to allow these anti-inflammatory effects to go to work for your skin.
Weber Shandwick Worldwide, “Researchers say tart cherries have ‘the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food,’” [Press Release] May 30, 2012, http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-05/wsw-rst052912.php.
Chainani-Wu N., “Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of turmeric (Curcuma longa),” J Altern Complement Med., February 2003; 9(1):161-8, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12676044.
Delfin Rodriguez-Leyva and Grant N. Pierce, “The cardiac and haemostatic effects of dietary hempseed,” Nutrition & Metabolism, 2010; 7(32): 10.1186/1743-7075-7-32, http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/7/1/32.
“ALA-rich walnuts reduce inflammation, shows small study,” Nutraingredients.com, November 9, 2004, http://www.nutraingredients.com/Suppliers2/ALA-rich-walnuts-reduce-inflammation-shows-small-study.
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Rachael Rettner, “Probiotics May Lower Inflammation and Treat Diseases,” LiveScience, October 31, 2011, http://www.livescience.com/35945-probiotics-good-bacteria-inflammation.html.