Systemic Antioxidants and Skin Health

September 2012 | Volume 11 | Issue 9 | Original Article | 1 | Copyright © September 2012

Most dermatologists agree that antioxidants help fight free radical damage and can help maintain healthy skin. They do so by affecting intracellular signaling pathways involved in skin damage and protecting against photodamage, as well as preventing wrinkles and inflammation. In today's modern world of the rising nutraceutical industry, many people, in addition to applying topical skin care products, turn to supplementation of the nutrients missing in their diets by taking multivitamins or isolated, man-made nutraceuticals, in what is known as the “Inside-Out” approach to skin care. However, ingestion of large quantities of isolated, fragmented nutrients can be harmful and is a poor representation of the kind of nutrition that can be obtained from whole food sources. In this comprehensive review, it was found that few studies on oral antioxidants benefiting the skin have been done using whole foods, and that the vast majority of current research is focused on the study of compounds in isolation. However, the public stands to benefit greatly if more research were to be devoted toward the impact that physiologic doses of antioxidants (obtained from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) can have on skin health, and on health in general.

J Drugs Dermatol. 2012;11(9):e1-e4.


Hippocrates said, "Let foods be thy medicine." Nutrition plays a key role in health and wellness. Poor nutrition contributes to aging and significantly increases the risk of developing systemic diseases ranging from arthritis and diabetes to cancer and heart disease.1 Unfortunately, in today's society, few Americans actually consume the daily recommended minimum of five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables, which serve as the most critical source of antioxidants.2 As early as the 1980s, the China-Cornell-Oxford Project on Nutrition, Environment and Health showed that a balanced diet consisting of whole grains, healthy fats and proteins, and rich in fruits and vegetables, can promote weight loss and reduce the incidence of lethal heart disease, chronic illness, and cancers.3 The skin, as the body's largest organ, stands to benefit greatly from a healthy diet. Because it receives up to one third of all blood circulation in the body, the best way to improve skin health would be to nourish this vast organ from the inside out—not just from the outside in using topical skin care products.


The Skin and Aging

In humans, the aging process is affected by intrinsic and extrinsic factors. These distinct processes independently affect skin structure and function.4,5 Intrinsic, or internal, aging is a natural process that occurs from progressive, irreversible tissue degeneration with the passage of time.5,6 Telomere shortening, metabolic oxidative damage, and free radical oxygen species play a major role in the intrinsic aging process, affecting individuals at different rates based on their unique genetic makeup. Extrinsic, or external, aging is intrinsic aging compounded by external factors such as ultraviolet (UV) and infrared radiation, environmental pollutants, and inflammation caused by harsh chemicals and disease processes.5,6

Free Radicals Accelerate Aging

The most universally accepted theory of aging is the free-radical theory proposed by Denham Harman MD PhD at the University of Nebraska in the 1950s.7 Stable atoms have an even number of electrons orbiting in pairs around the nucleus. Our cells use oxygen to produce energy. During this process of oxidation, a stable atom loses an electron and becomes an unstable atom, or free radical. This unstable atom, with its unpaired electron, is constantly seeking to complete itself by combining with an electron from stable compounds, thus producing more free radicals and establishing a damaging chain reaction that leads to cell destruction.
The cell membrane is one of the most vulnerable areas to free radical damage, and as it loses its integrity, fluids and nutrients can no longer properly move in and out of the cell.7,8 Many macromolecules are affected by free radicals: RNA, DNA, proteins, lipids, and lipoproteins. Alterations in these molecules lead to arthritis, heart disease, cancers, cataracts, and other degenerative diseases.

Antioxidants Prevent Chronic Health Conditions and Aging

The late 19th and early 20th centuries brought with them the discovery of antioxidants. Early research on the role of antioxidants was devoted to industrial processes such as the prevention of