Diabetes and Skin Care: Nutrition (Part 1)

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Skin conditions and skin care have been popular topics over these last couple of weeks (See "Diabetes and Skin Care [Part 1]" and "Diabetes and Skin Care [Part 2]"). Sometimes, we in the diabetes field focus so much on other diabetes complications, such as retinopathy, neuropathy, and heart disease, that we often overlook the effects that diabetes can have on the skin. Hopefully you’ve learned a little from the previous two posts as well as from the comments, advice, and tips readers have offered on protecting and caring for your skin.

This week, we’ll take a look at how nutrition impacts our skin. Every organ and organ system in the body needs nutrients and oxygen for good health; our skin is no exception. In fact, our skin often shows the first telltale signs of poor nutritional status or of certain nutrient deficiencies.

What’s needed for healthy skin, then? Here are a few of the top choices:

Water. We all know that water is essential for survival. Water carries nutrients and oxygen to all the body’s cells and tissues, removes toxins, and keeps mucous membranes moist. When you don’t drink enough water (or fluids), your skin can feel and show the effects. Your skin may feel dry and look dull or pale. While there’s no general consensus on how much water you should drink, the Institute of Medicine suggests that men aim to drink 13 cups and women 9 cups of fluid each day.

Vitamin A. Vitamin A is needed to maintain, protect and repair skin. An inadequate intake of this vitamin can lead to dry, flaky skin. Food sources of vitamin A include eggs, meat, cheese, and milk; and, in the form of beta-carotene, carrots, pumpkin, winter squash, cantaloupe, apricots, spinach, and broccoli. It’s fairly easy to meet your vitamin A requirements (3,000 International Units, or IU, per day for adult men; 2,300 IU per day for adult women) through food sources. Supplements may be needed for those deficient in vitamin A. However, it’s wise not to take supplements without medical supervision, as too much vitamin A can cause liver and bone problems. Beta-carotene is much more benign, although is not recommended, in supplement form, in those who smoke. Foods rich in beta-carotene have been found to help some people who have psoriasis. Topical vitamin A, in prescription form, called tretinoin (brand name Retin-A and others), is used to treat the skin in some people who have acne or wrinkles.

Vitamin C. Vitamin C is necessary for the formation of collagen, a type of protein that’s needed to make skin, cartilage, tendons, and blood vessels. An inadequate intake of vitamin C can result in rough, dry, and scaly skin, not to mention bleeding gums, dry hair, and nosebleeds! Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, which means it can protect against damage caused by free radicals found in sunlight, pollution, and smoke. Adult men should aim for 90 milligrams per day, and women 75 milligrams per day. Food sources include citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli, and potatoes. Vitamin C is available in cream form to help encourage collagen production. If you decide to use such a cream, make sure the cream contains L-ascorbic acid, the only form of vitamin C that can penetrate layers of skin. L-ascorbic acid may also help in the treatment of melasma, or hyperpigmentation, of the skin.

Vitamin E. This vitamin plays a number of different roles in the body. In terms of skin care, vitamin E, as an antioxidant, is necessary for protecting skin against ultraviolet radiation, or UV light. Vitamin E may also help keep skin smooth and protect against wrinkles. Vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, wheat germ, spinach, and broccoli are all good sources of vitamin E. Aim for about 22.5 IU daily. This vitamin can be used topically to help treat psoriasis, scars, stretch marks, and sunburns.

Next week: More nutrients that help the skin!

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