The Fitness Doctor: Eating Yourself Younger

The Fitness Doctor: Eating Yourself Younger
By Dr. Fredrick Peters

Eating a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in added sugar, sodium and processed meats could help promote healthy cellular aging. In deciding what to eat to maintain young and healthy skin, we are often faced with endless headlines.

Skin is the primary barrier that protects the body from external factors. Skin aging is a complex biological process and is affected by internal factors and external factors.

Researchers have used many models in recent years to explain the molecular mechanism of skin aging and the mechanism of its alleviation. These models include cell aging, oxidative stress, high-frequency chromosomal abnormalities, single-gene mutations, and chronic inflammation.

In a recent study, researchers used telomere length to measure cellular aging. Telomeres are DNA-protein structures located on the ends of chromosomes that promote stability and protect DNA. Age is the strongest predictor of telomere length — telomeres shorten in length during each cell cycle.

However, recent studies have shown that telomeres can also be shortened due to behavioral, environmental, and psychological factors. Shorter telomeres have been associated with an increased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

Leung and colleagues examined the diets of a nationally representative sample of nearly 5,000 healthy adults and how well they scored on four evidence-based diet quality indices, including the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet and two commonly used measures of diet quality developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Reducing the Risk of Chronic Disease
Higher scores on each of the indices were significantly associated with longer telomere length. The findings were consistent regardless of the diet quality index. All four diets emphasize eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based protein and limiting consumption of sugar, sodium and red and processed meat. Overall, the findings suggest that following these guidelines is associated with longer telomere length and reduces the risk of major chronic disease.

The commonality to all the healthy diet patterns is that they are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory diets. They create a biochemical environment favorable to telomeres. Poor-quality foods, like trans fats, cause inflammation, and aging is basically a chronic inflammatory state. For example, eating too much sugar and processed carbohydrates (like pasta, bread, and baked goods) can lead to damage in your skin’s collagen

Foods to Focus On|
Go for a Mediterranean-style diet. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein can help fight inflammation and keep you looking your best.

Try eating more of these foods:

  • Romaine lettuce. It’s high in vitamins A and C, which curb inflammation. Also try broccoli, spinach, arugula, watercress, escarole, and endive.
  • They’re rich in a nutrient called lycopene. So are watermelon, grapefruit, guavas, asparagus, and red cabbage.
  • It’s high in omega-3 fats, which fight inflammation. Tuna is another good choice.
  • Lentils and beans. These are good sources of protein and are loaded with fiber and nutrients. Try black beans, split peas, limas, pintos, chickpeas, and cannellini beans.
  • Whole grains such as oatmeal, whole wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, and quinoa help curb inflammation.
  • Water is a vital constituent of the body and facilitates maintenance of balance and tissue function in the body. Lack of water in the body can cause tissue dehydration and functional disorders (such as aging and inflammation). Studies show that drinking more than 2 L of water per day significantly affects skin physiology and promotes superficial and deep hydration of the skin.

Trace elements include iron, iodine, zinc, and copper, etc., and refer to elements whose content in the human body is less than 0.01–0.005% of the body mass. Despite being less abundant in the body, trace elements have strong physiological and biochemical effects. Trace elements are closely related to skin immunity and inflammation.

  • Zinc content in the skin ranks third among all tissues and is an essential element for the proliferation and differentiation of skin epidermal keratinocytes.
  • Copper is involved in the extracellular matrix formation, synthesis and stabilization of skin proteins, and angiogenesis. Clinical studies have shown that copper aids in improving skin elasticity, reducing facial fine lines and wrinkles, and promoting wound healing.
  • Iron is a catalyst for bio-oxidation. Studies have shown that ultraviolet radiation and iron content in women’s post-menopausal skin cells increase rapidly, reduce the skin’s antioxidant capacity, and lead to aging.
  • Selenium lacking in the diet weakens the UV-B-induced antioxidative ability of mice skin, making the skin more sensitive to oxidative stress due to ultraviolet radiation.

Lack of Vitamins and Skin Disorders
The lack of vitamins in the body can cause skin disorders. Vitamin C, if deficient, causes the symptoms of scurvy such as fragile skin and impaired wound healing. Vitamins, as skin antioxidant defense ingredients, are mostly taken from food, so the content of vitamins in the diet is closely related to skin antioxidant capacity and physiological functions.

Proteins form an important part of body tissues and organs. Their primary physiological functions are to construct and repair tissues, mediate physiological functions, and supply energy. All tissue cells in the body are constantly renewed, and only adequate protein intake can maintain normal tissue renewal and repair.

Skin is no exception, and the skin renewal cycle is generally considered to be twenty-eight days. Protein deficiency or excessive intake can cause metabolic disorders and affect physical health. Excessive intake of plant protein increases kidney load, and excess animal protein intake increases the risk of osteoporosis.

Smoking can change skin cuticle thickness and accelerates skin pigmentation. Clinical observations and investigations have also shown a certain correlation between smoking, external aging, and facial skin aging.

Alcohol and acetone produced by alcohol metabolism can promote the proliferation of skin keratinocytes, thereby enhancing skin permeability and damaging its barrier function. Alcohol also affects the metabolism of triglycerides and cholesterol and affects the lipid composition of the skin.

What Happens When You Quit
On the contrary, quitting smoking and alcohol can delay the aging of facial skin. Dysfunction of alcohol metabolism in the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) gene knockout mouse or human allele also confirmed that alcohol can cause increased skin pigmentation, although the downstream mechanism of action is unclear.

A high-fat diet is closely related to various diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, fatty liver, and skin aging. Studies have shown that dietary fat intake is closely related to the body’s adipose tissue and the lipid composition of the skin. High-fat diets delay healing of the skin by promoting skin oxidative stress and inflammatory responses, reducing protein synthesis, and may also cause morphological changes in skin and damage to matrix remodeling.

Moreover, a high-fat diet can promote skin inflammation and cancer by enhancing the expression of inflammatory factors and tumor necrosis factor in the skin by UV-B. In general, the effect of a high-fat diet is mainly to cause aging of the skin by causing skin oxidative stress to produce inflammatory damage.

Some studies have also shown a close association between sugar and some food processing methods (such as grilling, frying, baking, etc.) with skin aging, and their mechanisms are related to skin advanced glycation end products. A high-sugar diet, ultraviolet irradiation, and eating barbecued fried foods, lead to the accumulation of AGEs and acceleration of skin aging. However, strict control of blood sugar for four months can reduce the production of glycosylated collagen by 25%, and low-sugar food prepared by boiling can also reduce the production of AGEs.

Mechanistically, long-term intake of carbohydrates promotes skin aging by activating the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). Further, high-salt, spicy, and extremely vegetarian diets are also considered to be detrimental to skin health. Therefore, scientific, reasonable, healthy, and diverse eating habits and eating some antioxidant-rich foods are essential to maintaining skin health.

The key takeaway is that following a healthy, Mediterranean diet can help us maintain healthy cells and help our skin look its best!

*Dr. Peters is the founder of “The Fitness Doctor” ( He has a Ph.D. in Physiology from Kent State University and is a certified member of the American College of Sports Medicine. Dr. Peters was born and raised in the Cleveland area and is a graduate of St. Ignatius High School and John Carroll University. He can be reached at [email protected].

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