Phytonutrients – Healthy Eating
Phytonutrients are nutrients that come from nature, plant material. They have been shown to be necessary for sustaining human life. The Aesthetica Skin Care team talk about the importance of these new wave nutrients for skin health and facial rejuvenation.
It has been a long-held belief, that fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals were all the nutrients essential for growth and health; however, we are now increasingly aware of another group of nutrients necessary for optimal health – phytonutrients. Phyto is the Greek word for plant, meaning that the word phytonutrient or phytochemical literally means a ‘nutrient from a plant’. Modern research is revealing that these compounds, responsible for giving plants their colour, have many health benefits.
Many of the protective qualities found in plant phytonutrients can be applied to our own health. There are countless phytonutrients in nature, each of which has varying mechanisms of action beneficial to health.
Categories of phytonutrients.
Flavonoids have various positive impacts on skin blood vessels and capillaries. Three main components of their activity have been identified: blood vessel protection, platelet aggregation prevention, and decrease of capillary permeability.
Blood vessels and capillaries supply nutrients to the skin’s cells, as well as supporting cellular membranes – keeping these healthy ensures regeneration, therefore, slowing the aging process.
Flavanoids increase the level of potent antioxidants reducing inflammation. Research shows that curcumin, a flavonoid found in turmeric, inhibits the expression of Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), which is significantly involved in the acute inflammation that follows UVB exposure. It also inhibits proliferation and induces apoptosis of human melanoma cells. Flavonoids are found in many everyday foods, such as oranges and lemons (citrus fruits), all types of berries, red onions, tea (especially green tea), red wine and dark chocolate ( 70% cocoa).
Carotenoids are split into three classes: carotenes – orange and red pigments which are very fat-soluble including lycopene. Xanthophylls – yellow pigments including lutein and zeaxanthin and Astaxanthin, a dark pink pigment found in phytoplankton and algae providing the fish and birds which eat them, such as salmon, prawns, lobster and flamingos, with their intense pink colour. Carotenoids provide many of the beneficial properties of flavonoids and have also been shown to give skin a naturally tanned colour by stimulating the synthesis of melanin.
A study lead by at the University of Nottingham UK found that people who had a significant fruit and vegetables per day have a more golden skin tone, due to the carotenoid intake from these foods. The team found that “given the choice between skin colour caused by suntan and skin colour caused by carotenoids, people preferred the carotenoid skin colour”. Supplements are available which provide concentrated carotenoids for the specific purpose of promoting melanin production to give the skin a naturally tanned colour.
Certain skincare brands incorporate phytonutrient compounds into their formulations to provide a range of therapeutic actions. For example, retinoids are commonly used to increase skin cell turnover and address disorders such as psoriasis, acne and photoaging.
Antioxidant – Most phytochemicals have powerful antioxidant activity protecting against the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are atoms, molecules, or ions with unpaired electrons in their outer shell, causing them to be highly unstable and reactive. Antioxidants provide the missing electron helping to neutralise their damaging effects on cells. Free radicals affect the skin in three main ways. They can alter the fatty layers in the cellular membranes which provide structure to the cell and control which nutrients and other agents can pass in and out. They can negatively alter the DNA within cells which can predispose the skin to premature ageing. Altered DNA creates a blueprint for collagen and elastin fibres that don’t function as healthy, normal ones would. Free radicals also lead to cross-linking of collagen fibres.
When the skin’s dermis does not function correctly the collagen and elastin fibres becoming harder, thicker, and start to bind together. This causes cross-linked fibres causing wrinkles, skin sagging and causes those regular expression lines to become permanently etched. When your collagen and elastin fibres are healthy, such expression lines are much more likely to disappear once you move your facial muscles in a different way.
The enzymes that metabolize collagen are encouraged by free radicals, so it is, therefore, preferable to consume adequate levels of antioxidants in order to discourage the proliferation of these enzymes given the importance of collagen in maintaining skin structure and volume.
By regularly consuming a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, we are increasing phytonutrients intake, however, it is hard to guarantee the levels of nutrients one can consume through diet alone.
As with many nutrients, the levels of phytonutrients can decline as plant ages, it is, therefore, advisable to consume the freshest possible food. Organic fruit and vegetables have been shown to contain higher levels of phytonutrients, believed to be due to a longer growing time giving the plants more time to develop these compounds.
Phytochemicals in fresh plant foods are typically reduced or destroyed altogether by modern processing techniques, including cooking, so eating raw or steamed vegetables is preferable. Interestingly, the reverse is true with lycopene, a phytonutrient present in tomatoes, which becomes more bioavailable after having been heated.
The doses of individual phytonutrients studied and proved effective are often much higher than levels which could be obtained from dietary sources.
As an indication, Resveratrol, the compound linked to the health benefits of red wine are typically present in quantities of less than 2mg per litre. A study showed that resveratrol can block early stages of experimental atherosclerosis, however, the dosages used in the study were equivalent to the subject consuming at least five litres of wine per day!
Supplements of individual phytonutrients and phytonutrient complexes can ensure guaranteed levels of these beneficial compounds.
What we do know is that phytonutrients work synergistically, meaning when they are consumed together certain compounds enhance each other’s availability and actions.
In one study, curcumin co-supplementation with 20 mg of piperine (extracted from black pepper) significantly increased the absorption of curcumin by 2000% within the first hour.
This reinforces the importance of having a variety of different fruit, vegetables and spices in the diet, as discussed in recent posts.
The top 10 phytonutrient-rich foods
• soy – protease inhibitors, beta-sitosterol, saponins, phytic acid, isoflavones
• tomato – lycopene, beta carotene, vitamin C
• broccoli – vitamin C,
• garlic – thiosulphates,
• flax seeds
• citrus fruits –vitamin C, ferulic acid, oxalic acid
• blueberries – tannic acid,
• sweet potatoes
• chilli peppers – capsicum
• legumes: beans, peas, lentils – omega fatty acids,
Other foods rich in phytonutrients
• green tea
• red grapes including wine
• orange vegetables – carrots, pumpkin
• green leafy vegetables Brussels sprouts, spinach, cabbage or kale
• nuts and seeds, cranberries
• shiitake mushrooms
• dried apricots
• pink grapefruit
As research continues and our understanding of the benefits of phytonutrients grows, it is likely that we will see the use of phytonutrients for skin health increasing both in the form of nutritional supplements, as well as topical skin products. The Aesthetica skincare team will keep you posted on the developments in phytonutrients for effective skin health and facial rejuvenation. If you require further assistance or information please email us or call on 03 9824 6134.