Aging is a wonderful privilege that can sometimes be daunting. As we get older, we tend to become more susceptible to the depletion of certain nutrients that are vital for keeping our brains sharp, bodies’ active, and skin looking beautiful. We also become more prone to oxidative stress that is caused by poor diet, pollution, frequent sun exposure, and medication overuse. However, understanding what nutrients do to support optimal health and healthy aging, will allow for a lifestyle that revolves around the wisdom and opportunities that come with age, as opposed to a lifestyle associated with senility.
Glutathione, also known as our master antioxidant, is key to protecting us from oxidative stress. Glutathione depletion, which occurs with increased age, results in cellular damage. This antioxidant plays a significant role in our detoxification pathways. Glutathione binds to toxins such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and so much more in the liver to support excretion of toxins from our bodies. When our detoxification pathways are not functioning well, we are likely to see the effects on our skin. Not only does glutathione promote detoxification and our skin health, but its also showing great success boosting the immune system and in treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.
As we age, we often become deficient in B vitamins. B vitamins help protect our brains from cognitive decline.
Vitamin B3, Niacin, is an important nutrient in skin health. It helps to down-regulate the production of sebum, preventing acne. It also reduces pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-8 and has been used for skin lightening therapies.
Vitamin B6, Pyridoxine, supports the neurotransmitters in our brain and helps to produce hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells. Because B6 plays a role in the biosynthesis of GABA, dopamine, and serotonin, this vitamin has been to shown to help improve depression, irritability, and sensitivity to sound. B6 is also essential in balancing hormones and therefore a deficiency in it can be related to hormonal acne.
Vitamin B9, Folate, is essential for DNA replication and repair. B9 has been used to improve memory loss, insomnia, irritability, depression, anxiety, and dementia.
Vitamin B12, Cobalamin, is needed for nerve and brain function. B12 is a critical methyl donor that is dependent on the acidity of the stomach. With age, stomach acid is often reduced and B12 is not able to be absorbed as well from food. B12 is significant in protecting against cognitive decline. It is widely used for improving fatigue and boosting overall energy. It has also been used to improve depression, confusion, and memory loss. B12 deficiency often shows up as pale or slightly yellow skin.
Fun fact: Processed foods, especially grains, are often stripped of their B vitamins and natural fiber and left with synthetic nutrients instead.
While the sun has many benefits, let’s keep in mind that recurrent UV exposure increases free radical production. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that protects against oxidative stress in skin and increases glutathione levels in the body. While vitamin C is well known for boosting the immune system, it also helps to fight fatigue, muscle pain, and connective tissue degeneration. It also helps to support the production of collagen and soft tissues. Furthermore, the antioxidant activity of vitamin C lowers sunburn risk. In fact, the combination of vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium, has been to shown to provide cell membrane protection from oxidation.
Vitamin A, celebrated for its role in decreasing sebum production and reducing acne, is an important vitamin to consider when it comes to skin health and aging. Vitamin A helps to maintain skin cell integrity while strengthening skeletal and connective tissue. This vitamin is fat-soluble and a deficiency in it can lead to dry skin and hair.
When discussing vitamin D and the aging process, it’s crucial to recognize its role in bone health. Without vitamin D, calcium cannot be absorbed in the body. As people age, they are more prone to conditions that make their bones brittle, making this nutrient even more beneficial. Vitamin D assists in maintaining the integrity and health of the skin barrier and supports tissue repair. The active form of vitamin D regulates the proliferation of keratin within the epidermal cells. Vitamin D increases anti-inflammatory cytokine (IL-10) and decreases pro-inflammatory cytokine (IL-8). That’s why many people see a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with healthy aging and delaying cognitive decline. These fatty acids are popular for their anti-inflammatory actions and consist of two long chain fatty acids, EPA and DHA. EPA has cardiovascular benefits, and is also an important nutrient for people who struggle with depression, anxiety, and neurodegenerative diseases. DHA, found in increased amounts in the brain and eyes is vital for cognitive development. Furthermore, fatty acids maintain the health of the cell membranes, lower inflammation, and keep skin hydrated.
Zinc is vital to a variety of biological reactions. Zinc deficiency has been associated with accelerating the aging process. Zinc malabsorption can lead to hair loss, contribute to brittle nails, and overall poor skin health. Zinc deficiency has been shown to contribute to acne, eczema, and slow wound healing. Unfortunately, zinc deficiency is common in older populations, weakening the immune system, as well as the synthesis of healthy fats and proteins in our bodies.