An Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) is an acid we absolutely need to survive, but don’t produce it in our own bodies. This means we need to ingest it through foods, vitamins and minerals. The superfood EFA’s that will turbocharge the quality of our skin are Vitamins A,C, D and E.
Vitamin E (alpha – tocopherol)
Researchers from Berkley have found that the Vitamin E is one of the primary antioxidants that support healthy skin function. Vitamin E in itself is the second most abundant antioxidant in the body and plays a big part in keeping you healthy. The nutrient in Vitamin E that can help you fight off bacteria and oxidation in the body and is more formally known as alpha-tocopherol.
One of the main nefarious substances in our skin that creates havoc on our skin is called squalene peroxide. Squalene peroxide is called an oxidised substance. It is comodogenic (blocks pores) and it is so harmful as a compound, that scientists have found that just in applying a small amount of squalene peroxide to a rabbit’s ear, creates acne in that one spot.
What has this got to do with Vitamin E?
The relationship between squalene peroxide and Vitamin E is harmonious: for each compound of squalene peroxide created, vitamin E is sent straight to the source to kill it and keep you safe. Unfortunately in acne patients, there tends to be a deficiency in Vitamin E keeping you from combatting against the negative effects of squalene peroxide.
If your levels of Vitamin E are low, chances are there isn’t enough to help you fight off bacteria and squalene peroxide.
Vitamin E is like petrol in your car tank. It is being used to get you to work, but if all the petrol in the tank is used up to get you there, you won’t have any left to get you back home. This is the same in your body with antioxidants – if you don’t have enough antioxidants in your body (or you’re consuming oxidative stresses, like hot chips, processed foods, even toxic environments and stress create oxidation in your body), there isn’t enough Vitamin E petrol left to get to your skin to flush out the oxidised squalene peroxide.
Did you know? That an oxidised substance in your body is called a free radical. A free radical operates a little bit like a poacher. Poaches scour and kill innocent creates that contribute to our ecological and physical environment, and poachers come along and kill it and take the proceeds and do nasty things with it. A free radical does the same. It comes along, kills off your good cells and wreaks havoc with what is left over. If you have too many free radicals, you are at risk of disrupting your very DNA not to mention the quality of your skin and overall health.
The more geek-out definition of a free radical is an atom with at least one unpaired electron (meaning it is single). It is usually an oxygen atom that has lost its second electron. It’s like a married couple getting a divorce – they are now single and looking for their next match. For the free radical to stabilise itself, it hunts for and steals an electron from whichever cell it comes into contact with first. This means though, that the free radical damages the cell it comes into contact with as it changes its structure and subsequent blueprint. This quite literally means, that if your DNA comes into contact with free radicals, it can damage and change your DNA. What are the sources of free radicals?
- Transaturated fats: Anything cooked in processed vegetable oils (sunflower, canola). Switch for healthy coconut or avocado oils. Olive oil is fantastic, but do not cook or heat it as this oxidises the oil creating free radicals
- Non organic foods: Pesticides, chemicals and metals that are sprayed onto your food at the crops don’t wash off. You eat them too – you are what you eat ate. Just because plants don’t have teeth, doesn’t mean they don’t eat, they definitely do. And if they are feed harmful chemicals, they injest it and pass it onto you, meaning you might think you’re eating a healthy salad (which is definitely better than McDonald’s – don’t get me wrong) but you may be ingesting chemicals that give dishwashing liquid a run for its money. If you can’t afford organic (it is yes, very expensive) at least wash and soak your fruit and veggies in water with apple cider vinegar first. If you can, try to buy organic for the fruits and vegetables where you eat the flesh outright because there’s no protective skin – like kale, salad leaves, spinach. Fruits like bananas at least have a protective skin that can ingest chemicals before hitting the fruit itself – buy these non organically if you must.
- Stress: Stress isn’t related to just the work environment. There are all types of stresses that can impact your health causing free radicals in your body. These can be financial, relationship, environmental, physical exercise, even breathing creates free radicals as it’s a stressor on your body.
- Sun: Exposure to UV radiation can create free radicals, the times when the sun is most carcinogenic (cancer causing) is between 10am – 2pm.
Of course you can’t avoid all of these, and it’s not meant to scare you. What you can do, is take control of how many free radicals you expose yourself to though, and combat them by boosting your dietary intake with antioxidants. If you’re a big stress head, invest in meditation, tai chi or even qi dong to help put you on the path to manage your stress. We can’t avoid stress unless we live in complete solitude, but you can take steps to manage it so you are not putting your body into a negative state. You also have the power to control what you eat and lower the level of free radicals you ingest and at the very least, balance it by consuming vitamins (like Vitamin E) as antioxidants that will combat the negative barrage of mess the free radicals have left behind.
Here are the top sources of Vitamin E that you can start to incorporate into your diet at least once a day:
- Seabuckthorn oil (more detail on this further down)
- Sunflower Seeds
- Swiss Chard
- Turnip Greens
- Beetroot Greens
- Mustard Greens
Vitamin A (Retinol)
Vitamin A is critical in the development of healthy functioning skin. It acts as a natural antibiotic against P.Bacteria (if you have severe or cystic acne, chances are you are suffering from P.Bacteria infection) whilst regulating the immune response to the acne.
Your immune response will kick into overload when combatting the adverse effects of P.Bacteria because it is trying to attack it all at once by sending in the power troopers – your white blood cells and cytokines. This is absolutely the job your immune system is meant to do. Unfortunately though, this process will destruct some of your skin cells in the aftermath of this attack.
Vitamin A lowers the ‘attack’ (where it sends in white blood cells and immune response cells called cytokines) the immune response has on your acne, resulting in reduced inflammation, redness and pain around the pimples and cysts.
You will absolutely see almost all acne treatment products containing a substance called Retinol. This is because Retinol is the compound of Vitamin A itself that the body digests. Some acne prescription medications are even just Vitamin A heavy supplements. As you know, an EFA is not produced by the body, so it has to be ingested. There are two ways you can consume Vitamin A through food:
- From meat products (called active Vitamin A)
This type of Vitamin A comes directly from animal-derived foods (eg meat, eggs) and is ingested through a substance called retinol.
- From plants and fruits (called beta carotene)
This type of Vitamin A comes from plants (eg fruits and vegetables) that are called carotenoids which are ingested as beta-carotene first, then eventually convert into retinol.
Top 5 sources of Vitamin A:
- Sweet potatoes
- Beef liver
- Red peppers/capsicum
To make sure you ingest Vitamin A the most efficiently, it is best to eat Vitamin A rich food with healthy fatty acids like cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, avocado oil or coconut oil. Remember: make sure when you have olive oil, it is not cooked as heating olive oil oxidises the oil, creating free radicals.
Did you know? According to research conducted by Judy Ribaya-Mercado, Tufts University School of Nutrition, Boston, the consumption of fatty foods supports the body’s ability to digest and support Vitamin A’s conversion to retinol.
According to research from the Department of Dermatology, The Saarland University Hostpial in Homburg, Germany, Vitamin D helps to regulate the growth and differentiation of keratinocytes (our skin cells) in our skin. Keratinocytes are the skin cells that develop, migrate then die at the epidermis (first layer of our skin). Vitamin D can help to manage these cells particularly when we experience hyperkeratinisation (build-up of dead skins cells) and high cell turnover when experiencing acne.
Top sources of Vitamin D:
- The sun
But as we know, the sun can be damaging if we don’t consume it intelligently. The best time to experience sunlight, is early in the morning – anytime between 8.30-10am. According to research conducted by Urbach in 1960, 60% of the day’s total carcinogenic (cancer causing) radiation is received between 10am and 2pm (Urbach F, Ultraviolet radiation & skin cancer. Prev. Med. 1980 Mar 9, (2) 227-30). Don’t forget, just because it’s overcast doesn’t mean the sun doesn’t penetrate the clouds, 60% of the sun’s radiation can penetrate cloudy weather. Try to absorb sunlight at least twice a week for 5-30 minutes each session (sunbeds do not count). Ever noticed when you took a holiday to the beach or spent a day in the ocean water how much clearer your skin became?
There are of course certain Vitamin D foods you can eat, particularly if you live in areas with little sunlight (after a 5 year stint living in London I empathise for you, so you definitely need to boost your Vitamin D intake if you’re in this situation):
- Shiitake and button mushrooms (even dried mushrooms are fantastic – just make sure they have been dried in the sun)
- Egg yolks
You may have seen fish oil which are Omega 3 rich and used as a Vitamin D supplement. The specific fish oils to focus on here are:
- Cod Liver oil
- Liver oil
Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid)
Vitamin C helps to combat your acne by downregulating the immune response sent to fight off the P.Bacteria (similar to how Vitamin A acts). This means the Vitamin C calms the white blood cell and cytokines that are fighting off the P.Bacteria, allowing the surrounding infrastructure of your skin to stay in tact. Vitamin C also supports the development of your collagen cells, which is incredibly important to build your skin back up to a healthy function during and after acne.
Top sources of Vitamin C:
- Kakadu Plum
Although yes, our grapefruits, oranges and lemons have high levels of Vitamin C, our lovely Australian outback has provided us with the highest source of Vitamin C in plants according to this research.
You can consume it frozen or as a powder to add to your drinks or smoothies.
- Camu camu berry
- Acerola cherry
- Seabuckthorn oil
- Indian Gooseberry
Sea buckthorn Oil
According to research conducted at Xiyuan Hospital of the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine of China, Beijing and Department of chemic engineering, Taiyaun University of Technology) Seabuckthorn contains biologically active substances that positively affect the immune system as well as acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Research conducted in 2012 has also identified Seabucktorn oil to be a potent antioxidant.
You can’t eat Seabucktorn oil outright unless you’re living in Tibet or Mongolio (this is where the purest forms are found). However, there are a lot of Seabuckthorn oil supplements available.
Did you know? Seabuckthorn berry can provide up to 10 times more Vitamin C than oranges?
Fucoidan is an anti-inflammatory agent is found in green sea vegetables and seaweeds (namely Wakame) and targets inflammation. Again, you will be experiencing high levels of inflammation if you have P.Bacteria build up in your acne cysts. The top sources of Fucoidan are:
- Green sea vegetables
If you live near an Asian Grocer or can access a China Town, these ingredients are really easy to find and super cheap. You can also find them at health food stores but I’ve found the price point for the same branded product from an Asian Grocer is three times higher at health food stores.
Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) Supplements
So above we have covered the main EFA’s you should be including in your diet to help bolster your skin’s journey to either recovery or just a kickass boost. However, some foods only contain small amounts of the Vitamins you need to really get your skin back to health. In addition to eating all of the above on a daily basis, I turbocharge my intake with EFA supplements – not individualised Vitamin A, C , D and E supplements (if you’re pregnant you are not supposed to have Vitamin A supplements outright).
There are several EFA products out in the market bundling the benefits of the acids we need to injest in one easy to use active tablet. I personally take four of these EFA’s daily and have seen a 20% uplift in the quality of my skin (the EFA’s have turned the hard wax underneath my skin that kept my acne in place, into a natural healthy oil flow leaving my skin glowing and pimple free). The DMK EFA’s are what I stick with, you can checkout what it looks like below:
I keep my EFA’s in the bathroom. I take 2 in the morning just before breakfast, and 2 in the evening just before dinner.
This is what the EFA supplements look like. They don’t taste like anything in particular.
When taking supplements and EFAs generally, always make sure the ingredients are active. What do I mean by this? Active ingredients means that the health giving compounds (like the vitamins) are intact and haven’t been burned out, steamed out or roasted out when the core properties were being extracted in the production process. Why is this important? If the ingredients were extracted at high heat for example, chances are the compounds (like the core vitamins) could have been burned out, which means it has a minimal or even no nutritional or health benefit and you’re essentially just taking an empty capsule because the ingredients inside make little, or no difference to your overall health.
So do your research on how vitamins and minerals are extracted when you’re purchasing Vitamin and Essential Fatty Acid supplements. Remember, taking an inactive, non-bioavailable substance is just pill popping capsules without the filling doing anything in your body at all. Don’t cheat yourself of the health you deserve and invest in your supplementation wisely.