Posted on August 31, 2023 by Austin Lang
Posted on August 31, 2023 by Austin Lang
Your skin is your largest organ, not to mention your most visible. Seniors across the country are on the hunt for the best foods for skin health, looking to slow the signs of aging and maintain that youthful glow. However, there is so much more to skin health than moisturizer and sunscreen: ‘skin deep’ might just be a lot deeper than you thought.
Your skin does a lot more for you than just look good. Your outermost layer of skin, the epidermis, is your first line of defense against pathogens, serving as a physical barrier against disease. Unfortunately, as we age, our epidermis thins, becoming more prone to injury and slower to heal. There’s no way to reverse this process, but there are ways to protect your skin against injury and maintain a healthy epidermis well into your golden years.
As with all our Medicare Diet articles, the tips and recipes here are not medical advice, and won’t magically restore your skin on their own. However, when used in conjunction with a dermatologist-approved skin care regimen, the proper diet can play a major role in maintaining a healthy epidermis.
You’ve probably heard the word ‘antioxidant’ so often at this point that it’s lost all meaning. What even is an antioxidant anyway? To understand that, we’ve got to talk about chemistry at the atomic level.
An atom consists of several fundamental particles, but for the purposes of this discussion, we only need to worry about one: the electron. These excitable particles dance in erratic orbits around the atom’s nucleus, forming shells. Electrons are negatively charged, and if you’ve ever played with a magnet, you know that objects of the same charge repel one another.
To remain stable, an atom will attempt to maintain an even number of valence electrons, up to the maximum of eight. To do this, they either bond with other atoms to form molecules, or exchange electrons with other atoms to become ions. This is an extremely simplified explanation, but forms the basis of most chemical reactions. Atoms with an unstable valence shell will try to correct that, which inevitably either releases or absorbs energy.
Our bodies are a series of complex chemical reactions. When we break down food for energy, what we’re really doing is causing chemical reactions that release energy our bodies can use to function. Unfortunately, this leaves us with unstable byproducts known as free radicals, which desperately want to be stable. So, these unstable atoms take electrons from our cells, resulting in oxidative stress. This changes the chemical structure of our cells, and can result in all sorts of havoc. Some scientists have even theorized that oxidative stress is the main cause of aging, though the evidence behind that hypothesis is shaky.
Antioxidants prevent this process by providing alternative sources of electrons without becoming free radicals themselves. There are hundreds of potential antioxidants out there, from vitamin C to flavonols, which we get from the foods we eat. As the health effects of free radicals become better understood, the hype about antioxidants has also increased. However, things rarely live up to the hype you see in the media, and antioxidants are no exception.
While antioxidants do help manage free radicals, they’re not magic. Eating foods rich in antioxidants like vegetables and green tea won’t make your skin appear younger, and studies have found that antioxidant supplements aren’t as effective as eating antioxidant-rich foods when it comes to reducing oxidative stress. It’s likely that antioxidant substances work in conjunction with other nutrients, as well as the healthy lifestyle choices associated with choosing to eat more vegetables, to improve the health of our skin.
So, should you seek out foods with antioxidants? Yes: these foods are proven to have health benefits when prepared and consumed appropriately. Just don’t expect to find the fountain of youth in the produce aisle.
A more practical skin condition that affects seniors is shingles. Shingles is the nasty sequel to chickenpox: if you’ve ever had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in your body for the rest of your life. However, if your immune system is weakened, which commonly happens as we age, the virus can re-emerge as a nasty rash, usually on the side of your torso. This isn’t usually life threatening, but can be very painful and itchy.
One way to reduce the risk of shingles in seniors is by eating a proper diet. Complex carbohydrates (like whole grains) and foods rich in vitamins like zinc and B12 are key staples of a shingles diet, but there’s another surprising ally hiding in the dairy aisle: yogurt.
Now, we’re not talking about the kind of yogurt you get in a tube with a cartoon sponge on the box. We’re talking about yogurt rich in probiotics and L-lysine. Kefir, which is a fermented milk drink similar to a thin yogurt, is a major player in the best diet for shingles. Otherwise, look for yogurt that contains live and active cultures. In addition to bolstering your immune system, probiotics help you maintain a healthy microbiome.
What is a microbiome, you might ask? It’s the collection of microorganisms that live inside your body, including in your gut and in your skin. Eating probiotics, like yogurt, and prebiotics, like fiber, help balance your body’s miniature ecosystem. When our microbiomes are stable, we’re better able to fight off infections and inflammation, shingles included.
Beyond antioxidants and probiotics, there are a lot of ways our diet can affect our skin. Many of these are reiterations of advice you’ve probably heard before, like avoiding red meat, sugar, salt, and alcohol. The reason why those four things come up so often is because they’re major components of the American diet, so they’re often consumed in excess. As always, we recommend exercising moderation while eating these foods and focusing on sustainable lifestyle changes.
One thing you can do to promote healthy skin is to stay hydrated. The skin needs to maintain a strict moisture balance to remain firm and flexible. Dry skin often becomes itchy, is slow to heal, and is prone to infection. Getting plenty of water in your diet will help improve your skin health in addition to the many other benefits of staying hydrated.
This edition’s recipe is a surprisingly simple one, though it requires a special ingredient. Making kefir is a practice that stretches back for thousands of years, and is much simpler than making yogurt. All you need is your favorite milk and some active kefir grains.
Kefir grains aren’t actually grains, but are instead cultures of live bacteria. You can find them online or at certain grocery stores. If properly taken care of, your kefir grains will multiply and can be used for years to come.
If you’re curious about other ways Medicare can help you manage your skin health, we can help. Contact one of our licensed agents at (800) 950-0608 to learn more.