Gut Feeling

For better skin, take a look at diet first.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

For better skin, take a look at diet first.

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Would you give up your evening glass of wine or coffee if it meant fresh, healthier skin? More seem to be choosing this route for glowing, younger-looking skin. According to London-based naturopathic doctor and skincare specialist Nigma Talib, our morning lattes could be responsible for the dark rings under our eyes and spots on our chin, while dark deep-seated nasolabial folds may be due to the wine we drink.

This doctor to the stars (Talib’s clients include Sienna Miller and Charlotte Tilbury) is convinced certain foods and alcohol have a direct and often instant impact on our faces. In her book Reverse the Signs of Ageing, she describes key ageing triggers or “digest-ageing” such as dairy, gluten, sugar and alcohol. “What we put into our gut shows up on the face, although they may affect each of us in a different way depending on our constitution.” Convinced of the telltale symptoms, she claims to be able tell the foods a patient eats just by looking at their faces.

Zoning in on wine, Talib explains that “the space between the eyes is associated with the liver, so ‘wine face’ sufferers tend to have deep lines or redness between the brows.” Alcohol dehydrates the skin, accentuating fine lines and wrinkles, while also slowing the production of key enzymes the body uses to fight inflammation, resulting in flushed cheeks and a red nose. High sugar content also damages the skin’s collagen, vital for maintaining elasticity, and accentuates enlarged pores and droopy eyelids.

Talib recommends taking a three-week alcohol break, before adopting the 80/20 rule: abstain from alcohol 80 per cent of the time and enjoy small quantities for the other 20 per cent. Spirits are cleaner if you want to drink, so opt for a gluten-free spirit such as rum, tequila or potato-based vodka. If you crave wine, opt for red instead of white or choose one with less sugar.

As for the backlash against gluten, Talib is adamant that all gluten should be excluded. “It’s not a trend, it’s a problem I’ve been talking about forever and I knew the day would come when the world would listen,” she says. “We are cultivating grains differently now which causes many health problems.” She explains that gliadin, the protein in gluten, breaks down tight junctions in the lining resulting in ‘leaky gut’. “When this happens the body starts to have abnormal responses to foods and people become more sensitive to relatively common foods.”

Some of Talib’s patients suffering from rosacea found it improved, often entirely, once gluten was removed from their diets. “No matter how many supplements you take or how many peels you have, if you have the symptoms of gluten face, then nothing will make your skin look its best, except removing gluten from your diet. Just cut it out, consume more water and fibre and the puffiness will disperse, your skin tone will normalise and your cheekbones will reappear.”

Hong Kong-based acupuncturist and herbalist Jennifer Lewin specialises in functional medicine at the Integrated Medicine Institute, agrees. “For me it’s about getting all the micronutrients we need from our food and if our gut isn’t healthy, these nutrients are really difficult to absorb,” she explains. Lewin has noticed that once gut health is in order, skin automatically looks brighter. “Skin and the gut are intimately related, so to keep skin in optimal condition it is essential to support a healthy gut microbiome. Gluten is inflammatory and can create havoc through the body – it’s not good for the skin, nor the brain or any system.” Furthermore, the skin is part of the body’s detoxification system, so if the liver or other detox pathways are compromised, the skin can become negatively affected.

Lewin recommends a wholefood, nutrient-dense diet, rich in vitamins A, B C and E, zinc, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids. She recommends avoiding inflammatory foods like gluten, refined sugar, alcohol, dairy, yeast, legumes, soy, industrial seed oils (mainly vegetable oils), preservative and additives. “From the Chinese medicine perspective, dairy produces phlegm and is not advised for those with sinus issues. For those who choose to have it, opt for raw dairy or products from grass-fed cows.”

Sugar is top of the naughty list for Justine Grier, aesthetician at Optimal Skin in Hong Kong. “Sugar accelerates ageing, and in excess damages the collagen and elastin fibres resulting in wrinkles and sagging.“ She believes many of her clients are deficient in essential fatty acids, especially those with eczema, severe sensitivity, dryness and dermatitis.

“The cell membrane of the skin is made up of lecithin and lipids so depriving your body of fatty acids weakens the membrane making it impermeable and unable to contain the fluids needed for plump, hydrated skin,” says Grier. “Incorporating a fish oil supplement into the diet is essential to heal skin, while also increasing intake of oilyrich foods like avocado, eggs, fish and nuts. Probiotics and fermented foods like kefir and kombucha also contribute to that healthy glow.” She warns that stimulants like spicy food, caffeine, alcohol and extreme changes in weather can also spike the symptoms of inflammatory skin disorders.

"Gluten is inflammatory and can create havoc through the body"~Jennifer Lewin

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