Vibrant Ageing

Vibrant Ageing

Vibrant Ageing

When I was in my teens and twenties ageing was something I didn’t think about, well you don’t do you? It's only as I’ve got older that it has become a ‘thing’.

I remember one New Years Day, longer ago than seems possible, when my son said to me, ‘You go off this year don’t you?’,
‘What?’ I asked, ‘Past your sell-by date’ came the reply, accompanied by uproarious laughter. I was turning 40 later that year!!

For far too long glossy magazines, the beauty industry and society in general have made us fear ageing, made us feel ashamed even, and encouraged us to fight against it. We are bombarded with adverts for botox, anti-ageing treatments and products. Yet ageing is an entirely natural and unavoidable process, our journey through life is a precious gift, we should embrace it with confidence and positivity.

I dislike the term ‘anti-ageing’, I prefer to think of ‘vibrant ageing’, full of life and energy. There is no miracle treatment, product or magic potion that stops this natural process. But by making relevant and healthy lifestyle choices, we can soften the effects that ageing has and enjoy the benefits that living well brings to our happiness, wellbeing and our skin.

The Skin

Skin is formed from 70% elastin and collagen and 30% proteoglycans.  It’s the body’s largest organ and acts as the first line of defence against the environment, it supports electrolyte balance, sensory feedback, temperature regulation, vitamin D synthesis and absorbing substances and excreting waste.
Collagen forms a dense supportive matrix, it supports our skin preventing it from sagging and protecting it from splitting when the skin is pulled or twisted. Elastin provides resilience and elasticity to the skin allowing it to snap back into its original shape whenever the skin is stretched or pulled.
In youth collagen and elastin are moist and plump, which gives the skin its fullness and shape. As we age these fibres shrink, a process that can be accelerated by a number of factors, causing the skin on the surface to fold in on itself forming lines and wrinkles.
The ageing process consists of two distinct processes:

  Affects the skin in the same way it affects all organs.
  Produces smooth, pale and finely wrinkled skin.
  With the passage of time the skin becomes thinner, the number of epidermal cells decreases by 10% per decade.
  Less collagen is produced and elastin fibres wear out.
  Reactive oxygen species (including free radicals) rise while antioxidant activity declines.

  The result of exposure to external factors such as ultraviolet irradiation (sun damage), stress, poor nutrition, over eating, alcohol, smoking and pollution.
  Characterised by coarse, deep wrinkles with pigmentation and broken veins.

Skin Ageing, Some Considerations

The hormone cortisol is raised during times of stress, excess cortisol inhibits protein synthesis, by reducing amino acid absorption, resulting in reduced collagen production. Cortisol also lowers hormones that maintain bone and muscle mass below the skin.

This reduces blood flow to the capillaries, reducing oxygen and nutrients to elastin and collagen fibres, causing hardening or sagging of the skin. The toxins can also cause pigmentation.

Oestrogen and androgens have a supportive role in the production of collagen and elastin, these hormones reduce as we age, meaning there is a decline in elastin and collagen production resulting in dryness and a loss of elasticity.

A lack of water or diuretics such as alcohol cause skin to lose plumpness and elasticity, leading to dryness, fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin. Water also helps to flush out toxins lowering the burden of inflammation.

Inflammation is one of the most destructive influences on tissues, accelerating the ageing process by affecting the quality of cellular replication. The term ‘Inflammaging’ was coined to describe the ageing induced by chronic, underlying inflammation that ultimately exhausts the skins defences, weakens its structure and results in the degradation of collagen and elastin and impairs the skins barrier function.

This is a key factor in the physiology of ageing. Proteins or lipids can become glycated after contact with sugars to form Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs).

When collagen becomes glycated it loses plumpness and flexibility, becomes fragile and more susceptible to damage.

When elastin is damaged by AGEs the result in loss of skin elasticity and contour meaning the skin sags and forms wrinkles.
The method of preparation of foods affects the AGEs content, with higher heat cooking such as frying, grilling and baking generally promoting higher amounts than boiled or steamed foods.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids damaged by AGEs can develop into brown ‘liver spots’

UV radiation, smoking and poor diet result in an accelerated deposition of AGEs in the skin.

Diet to support Vibrant Ageing

Oxidation is a crucial step in the formation of many AGEs. Antioxidant compounds reduce oxidation within the body and can therefore have anti-glycating properties.

Lower intakes of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, have been significantly associated with the prevalence of wrinkles. Vitamin C is not only an important antioxidant, it is also used for collagen synthesis.

Carotenoids are fat soluble anti-oxidants found in orange and red coloured fruits and vegetables such as squash, carrots, mangoes, sweet potato. As they are fat soluble they can easily accumulate in the fatty subcutaneous layer of the skin where the majority of the collagen and elastin fibres are, protecting them from free radical damage. But this is not the only benefit of them accumulating here, they also confer a photo-protective benefit, providing protection from UV radiation.

Counteracting Glycation
First and foremost, avoid or reduce as much as possible sugar intake, including refined and simple carbohydrates.

Green Tea counteracts AGE’s-induced pro-inflammatory changes.

Vitamin C decreases serum protein glycation, so include plenty of vitamin C rich foods, most fruits including citrus and berries, brightly coloured veg and leafy greens.

Anti-inflammatory support
The essential fatty acid omega 3 is potent anti-inflammatory, as I said above inflammation is one of the most destructive influences on tissues, accelerating the ageing process. Omega 3’s are also crucial in cell membrane formation and function.

While we can get omega 3 from plant sources such as flaxseeds, chia, hemp seeds and walnuts, it is in the alpha-linolenic (ALA) form. This form is not active in the body and requires to be converted to EPA and DHA, unfortunately we only convert about 5% of ALA to EPA and less than 0.5% to DHA. Therefore its important to get preformed EPA and DHA, oily fish are rich in both these forms of omega 3 as is grass fed meat. For vegetarians, algae sources provide these forms.

Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic Acid (HA) in skincare products is a hot topic at the moment, but what is it, what does it do and why am I mentioning it here in diet?

It is a polysaccharide produced in the skin, eyes and connective tissue of humans and animals. Its one of the things that gives the young their plump skin and youthful appearance, but unfortunately as we age the percentage of HA in our body and skin drops.

In the body it is a lubricant for the joints, relieving joint pain particularly that associated with arthritis. It plays a major role in wound healing, by regulating inflammation and building more blood vessel to the site of the wound.

In the skin it acts as a humectant, meaning it draws water in to the skin and can hold it here providing moisture and plumpness, alleviating dry skin and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also inhibits collagen degradation.

You may have heard or seen it as an ingredient in skincare products (more on that later), but by consuming it in the foods we eat, we replace from within and provide huge benefits from a whole body ageing perspective.

Food sources of Hyaluronic Acid
  Root vegetable, such as carrots, turnip, onions, sweet potato, beetroot
  Citrus Fruits
  Leafy Greens
  Bone Broth, rich in hyaluronic acid and collagen.
Diets rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, quality protein, oily fish and low in refined carbohydrates, sugar, processed foods and hydrogenated fats, will be the most supportive for healthy skin ageing and indeed the body as a whole. Flavonoids found in fruits, vegetables, grains and tea can be of huge benefit to the skin, by influencing blood vessel fragility, reducing the development of dilated blood vessels near the surface of the skin and reducing the development of broken capillaries.

Skin Care Products

We’ve looked at how our diet and lifestyle can influence and support skin ageing, but what about the products we use.

Traditional anti-ageing products often have a long ingredient list of chemicals with unpronounceable names, boasting their anti-ageing benefits or a whole array of antioxidants, vitamins and proteins, which unfortunately are often synthesised in a laboratory (see Hyaluronic Acid below), as this is a cheaper and more convenient option.

But our skin is alive, lifeless chemicals can not give life and vibrancy to it. And instead these substances are either not utilised properly or worse, they can place a burden of toxicity on the body leading to underlying inflammation, and potentially accelerating the ageing process, rather than slowing it down.

Hyaluronic Acid
Up until the 1990’s the only way to obtain hyaluronic acid for skin care purposes, was from animal sources, mainly cockerel combs and horses hooves. Then with the huge rise in popularity of HA, it became more ethical and cost effective to use synthetic HA made in the lab through genetically modified bacterial fermentation.

Although many dermatologists recommend the use of HA (either animal-derived or synthetic) for temporarily moisturising the skin, most recognise that the molecules of these two substances are actually too large to pass through the epidermis, and to receive the benefits of this type of HA, it has to be injected, not something skincare product manufactures care to admit.

Many plants contain polysaccharides and beta-glucans which mimic those naturally found in our body, stimulating the skins production of our own naturally occurring hyaluronic acid. Plants such as Marshmallow Root and Astragalus, oats, reshi mushroom, seaweed and algae are often used in natural skincare products for this purpose.

I wanted to briefly mention emulsifiers. They are used to combine substances that wouldn’t normally join. For instance, the mixing of water with oils in cream textured skin care. Cream based products such as cleansing milks, lotions and moisturisers, contain water (around 70%) and oils (10-15%) and binding these two elements together is an emulsifier (between 10-15%).

Skin tolerance to these substances varies, you may already avoid products that contain the emulsifiers lauryl sulphate or lauryl ether sulphate, as these are known to be skin irritants.

The use of emulsifiers is largely unregulated, even in natural products. They are considered an easy and inexpensive way of combining the oil and water elements. They work by reducing the surface tension of water, floating within the liquid between the water and oily elements, forming links to hold these two naturally repelling elements together.

However what most people do not realise, is that emulsifiers do not lose their emulsifying abilities once absorbed by the skin, that is they will continue to attract and hold water and oil form the skin, drying the skin out and preventing the skin benefiting from the nourishing ingredients present. Emulsifiers alter and lower the ability of our skin barrier to defend itself against outside elements, creating inflammation, possible itchiness, redness and accelerating the ageing process.
Embrace all that life has to offer, take pleasure in the little things, laugh, dance, be joyful, you mind, body and skin will thank you.