Our Skin Reflects Our True Health

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Best Future YouHarnessing Your Body’s Biochemistry to Achieve Balance in Body, Mind, and Spirit

My 13th book, Best Future You, is out!

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting excerpts from the book and blogging frequently about the main concept in the book – which is the idea of harnessing your body’s internal cellular biochemistry to achieve true balance in body, mind, and spirit – and in doing so, help you to become your “Best Future You” in terms of how you look, how you feel, and how you perform on every level.

Chapter 7 – Look Your Best

Our Skin Reflects Our True Health

You’ve heard the old saying, “Beauty is more than skin deep” – and it’s true – especially when you realize that our body has a built-in “beauty protection” network inside of every cell, including our skin cells. You’ll often hear that the skin has “two layers” (the dermis and epidermis), but the epidermis (uppermost layer) is actually comprised of five distinct layers and the dermis (deeper layer) has two different layers – so our skin actually has seven different layers that protect our delicate (internal) tissues from the damaging (external) environment.

Emerging science is discovering a new approach to caring for your skin, one that addresses what goes on inside you and at the deeper layers of skin (not just the surface) in order to bring forth the most glowing, clear, healthy skin on your outside. Achieving healthy, beautiful skin is truly an inside-out process. Looking better, feeling better, having more confidence, and causing your exterior to reflect your beautiful interior (and vice versa) is what the latest skin science is all about.

Nobody wants to look like they’re aging. Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on lotions, creams, and coatings to be applied to the surface of the skin (the dead part, called the stratum corneum). Many of these concoctions do a wonderful job of smoothing out wrinkles and giving the appearance of younger, healthier skin. The illusion of healthier skin, however, rapidly fades when the beauty cream wears off.

What is Our Skin Made Of?

Before we get too far into an explanation about how to make our skin look better, let’s take a few minutes to understand what our skin is actually made of. Skin is a highly structured group of specialized cells (keratinocytes) and complex proteins (collagen, elastin, keratin, etc). Each of these proteins is a specialized type often referred to as structural protein. It might help you to think of structural proteins as the steel girders and construction rods of the body. If we were to think of the body as a structure such as an office building or skyscraper, then structural proteins would be the steel girders, the iron rivets and the outer surface of the building.

Structural proteins play a vital role in maintaining the basic integrity of various tissues in the body. By integrity, I am referring to the actual “state of repair” of bodily tissues such as your joints, bones, tendons and ligaments. You might visualize healthy collagen as the surface of a brand new highway (smooth, strong, free from damage) whereas an old country road covered with potholes might be a way to visualize unhealthy or damaged collagen. By maintaining proper function and supporting the body’s vital cellular renewal processes, we can help to delay or prevent many of the degenerative conditions commonly associated with aging.

Collagen and related structural proteins are constantly in a steady state of turnover – meaning that the collagen matrix is continually being broken down and rebuilt in response to the demands placed on it. Under normal circumstances, turnover is balanced between synthetic (production) and degenerative (breakdown) processes. This allows periodic removal and repair of damaged tissue and its replacement with healthy new tissue. Under certain conditions, however, the balance between tissue breakdown and repair can become unbalanced – resulting in excess tissue deterioration. Sometimes this is due to extreme cellular destruction, sometimes to inadequate repair and sometimes to a combination of both.

A number of factors are known to influence the body’s ability to adapt to conditions which unbalance the cellular turnover process, including:

  • Aging causes a number of biochemical and biomechanical changes in skin and other connective tissues. For example, in skin, both the number of cells and their individual activity may decline with age. This means that older skin may be less able to repair damage and less resistant to injury and environmental insults than younger skin.
  • Genetic factors are thought to play a role in metabolism of collagen and other structural proteins and may explain some of the variation in risk of collagen-related diseases such as arthritis and osteoporosis, which can be related in certain ways to skin aging (fine lines and wrinkles).
  • Physical activity has the potential to significantly influence collagen and structural protein metabolism by enhancing transport of nutrients from the blood into the connective tissues, including skin, where they can be used. Too little activity or too much mechanical stress may unbalance the collagen repair process and impair connective tissue function.
  • Medications, including over the counter pain relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) can interfere with the normal collagen repair process. Although such medications are widely used for the temporary relief of pain and inflammation of arthritis and other injuries, their overall effect is to address the symptom of pain – not the underlying cause of tissue damage. Chronic use of such pain relievers may actually accelerate connective tissue damage and worsen the very condition from which you are trying to get relief.

Cellular Turnover

As discussed above, collagen and other structural proteins are continually undergoing a process of breakdown and repair. This cycle of tearing down and building back up again is referred to as “turnover” and is a perfectly normal part of keeping the connective tissues such as skin at peak health. The turnover process allows tissues with a high collagen content to adapt to stress and repair themselves after suffering damage. For instance, let’s say you “over do it” at the company softball game and wake up with stiff achy muscles and joints the next morning. The pain and discomfort that you are feeling is a result of damage to your muscles, tendons and ligaments caused by the stress of overexertion. You already know that the pain and stiffness will eventually go away over the next couple of days – that’s because your natural turnover process will begin to remove the damaged tissue and replace it with brand new healthy tissue that is just a little bit stronger than it was before. The very same process is at work when we need to repair our damaged skin after too many hours in the sun, or when we’re repairing a scratch, cut, or other wound to the skin.

The collagen turnover process can be influenced by a variety of factors including age, physical health and nutrient intake. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out the wrinkling of skin, the stiffening of joints and the graying (or loss) of hair as we age. We’ve known for decades that regular physical activity and proper nutrition can help delay or reverse some of the deterioration of our bodies. In fact, many of the losses in function considered to be “inevitable” consequences of aging are little more than minor inefficiencies and subtle deficits that have built up over many years.

For example, joint stiffness is probably the first consequence of aging that we notice. Why? Because we try to get up from the chair or carry something across the yard and we say, “Whoa, I never felt that before.” What you’re feeling in this situation is the result of years and years of accumulated stress (and inadequate repair) in your connective tissue. The key to maintaining optimal connective tissue function is to maintain and support the naturally balanced process of collagen turnover.

Virtually each and every situation that we associate with “aging” can be directly attributed to the lifetime balance of degradation and repair within each tissue. In the innumerable cases that make us feel older (joint pain, weak muscles, stiff tendons and wrinkling skin) a significant underlying connection to collagen health exists. In each case, the balance between breakdown and repair has tilted in favor of collagen loss.

Even if collagen breakdown outpaces repair by just a very slight amount, the combined effect over the years will lead to dysfunction. If you could just give the balance a little bump – and either nudge the synthesis of collagen a little higher or push the breakdown of collagen a little lower – then you’d be back in balance. Even better, if you could stack the deck in your favor, by increasing collagen synthesis above the breakdown rate, then you could actually make gains in those areas that previously gave you grief.

Thanks for reading – be sure to tune in for the next installment about “Skin Protein Maintenance – Synthesis, Breakdown and Repair

Shawn M Talbott, PhD, CNS, LDN, FACSM, FAIS, FACN
Nutritional Biochemist and Author
801-915-1170 (mobile)


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The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy
Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic
The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House)
The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House)
Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House)
Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living – Lasting Relief for Flexible Joints, Strong Bones and Ache-Free Muscles (Chronicle Publishers – Currant Books)
The Immune Miracle – The All-Natural Approach for Better Health, Increased Energy and Improved Mood (GLH Nutrition, 2012)
A Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplements – an Outstanding Academic Text of 2004 (Haworth Press)
About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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