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Beauty Inside and Out

By: Risa Caldoza-De Leon MD, FPAPSHPIBeauty Inside and Out

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” you ask your bathroom mirror. But what if it answers back: “The one with the strongest immunity”? This makes more sense because immunity and beauty are linked, after all.   

Beauty is wellness, and a host of studies has proven that good looks and attractiveness go hand in hand with a good immune system. Immunity is the balanced state of our body where we have a proper amount of defenses to mount when infection or disease try to attack us. A healthy immune system equates to a healthy mind and body, which in turn lead to external beauty. 

A person’s immunity is hampered by bad lifestyle habits and diet. Hair fall, such as in alopecia areata is caused by a whacked immune system. Poor skin health such as the dreaded acne or eczema may also be a sign of a weak immune system due to a lack of important nutrients like vitamins A, B, C and E, zinc, arginine, and phytonutrients.

I’m sure you have had your share of kulani or enlarged lymph nodes when you were sick or had a wound. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system that, once blocked, can lead to more cellulites, swelling, and stretch marks.

Health is influenced by the stress hormone cortisol. When you’re stressed out or anxious, cortisol levels shoot up and suppress your immune system by blocking white blood cells, the body’s soldiers that fight infection. A study in Finland showed that women around 20 years old with higher levels of cortisol (stressed) are perceived as having less attractive faces by men.

Same is true for the males. Women are subconsciously attracted to men with a healthy immune system. A study in Nature Communications revealed a relationship between testosterone, stress hormones, male facial attractiveness and a healthy immune system. Men in their early 20s with healthy immune systems had also high levels of testosterone and were viewed as more attractive than their stressed counterparts. The link with testosterone was strongest in males with low levels of stress.

As we age, our immune system ages, too. It’s called immunosenescence. This explains why older adults are at ever-increasing risk of serious infections or cancers.

Guardians of the body

Antioxidants to the rescue! These are nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and enzymes (proteins inside your body) that prevent and repair damage to the body by mopping up the free radicals that trigger wrinkling, sagging, and other ageing changes. Free radicals are chemicals with the potential to harm cells.  When skin cells get damaged, it results in wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.

Antioxidants help protect your skin from inside out, guarding cells from the damaging effects of the sun. Vitamins A, C, and E and the mineral selenium are very useful in skin care and in any anti-ageing regimen, just like your favorite anti-ageing night cream that reduces the surface lines and wrinkles to bring out a radiant and youthful glow.  Our bodies make antioxidants but they are also found in plants.

Vitamin A derivatives, medically known as retinoids, have been proven to reduce wrinkles, remove the appearance of brown spots, and smoothen skin. As topicals, you have to apply them sparingly at night since sunlight inactivates most forms of vitamin A. Retinoids are very powerful and may cause redness and irritation. Consult your dermatologist before slathering one on your face.

Vitamin B3 or niacinamide is very good for dry or sensitive skin and in dealing with those ugly dark spots. Vitamin K is great for younger, brighter eyes. It helps lighten under-eye circles by controlling its cause: fragile capillaries that allow blood to seep into the skin. A study showed that daily use of a vitamin K cream with retinol can lighten eye circles after four months.

C is for Beauty

Vitamin C is the superstar of antioxidants, the go-to source that naturally support a healthier immune system. There are gazillions of research touting vitamin C’s benefits and significant role in supporting, enhancing, and energizing immune function. Ageing individuals tend to have lower levels of vitamin C going ‘round their bloodstream and immune cells, leading to impaired immunity. Remember immunosenescence? This is partly the result of a higher oxidative environment that consumes vitamin C. People with common diseases have lower vitamin C blood levels than healthy individuals. 

During times of inflammation or infection, your body should have an extra vitamin C since it’s needed by the cell’s inner workings. Stress also cuts vitamin C levels, leaving the affected individuals vulnerable to infection at exactly the time he needs a stronger immune support.

We, as humans, cannot produce vitamin C so we need to get it from outside sources. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin C is around 90 mg per day. Just so you know, a medium orange gives you 69.7 mg of vitamin C, while a mango yields a 22.3 mg boost. 

For optimal immune function, studies recommend popping 1 gram (1,000 mg) of vitamin C supplement daily in addition to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.  L-ascorbic acid (LAA) is the chemically and biologically active form of vitamin C.

Left for a time, a peeled apple will turn brown. That’s (bad) oxidation at work. If you put the juice of a lemon on that apple, it will prevent it from discoloring. That’s vitamin C at work.

Vitamin C is the most plentiful antioxidant in human skin. In a study in UK, daily doses of oral 1,000 mg and 3,000 mg of vitamin C resulted in firmer skin and lesser fine lines and wrinkles as early as one month. Vitamin C strengthens blood vessels and gives skin its elasticity and strength. It directly activates collagen synthesis, too. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found middle-aged women who consumed more vitamin C from food sources had fewer wrinkles and less skin dryness. But of course, it pays to consult your doctor first before trying these recommendations. After all, intake of vitamins, just as with any other beauty regimen, is not a one-size-fits-all approach.  

Nevertheless, vitamin C plays an important role in iron absorption. Iron, in turn, contributes to your overall beauty and well-being, helping you feel vibrant and energized. Vitamin C is truly an essential beauty nutrient which offers a bevy of youth-boosting benefits.

So if you’re tired of looking tired, consider building a strong immune system. Stay strong, stay beautiful!

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