Skin Protein Maintenance – Synthesis, Breakdown and Repair

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

Skin Protein Maintenance – Synthesis, Breakdown and Repair

As mentioned above, skin proteins maintain strength and resiliency by continually undergoing a process of breakdown and rebuilding. This process, known as collagen turnover, is a recycling process that helps get rid of older collagen, elastin, and keratin fibers that may be damaged or weakened, and replaces them with newer, healthier fibers that are stronger and more able to withstand strain. Just as public works crews are sent out to repair potholes in roads, your body has to fight an ongoing struggle to constantly maintain and repair the collagen network.

Without this ongoing renewal and repair process of skin protein turnover, small bits of daily damage would build up and result in a serious deterioration of the tissue. In skin, this leads to the familiar dulling and wrinkling as we age; in joints, this might lead to painful arthritis; in bones it might lead to a stress fracture; and in muscles and tendons the risk for strains and tears might be increased.

I certainly don’t need to tell anybody reading this book that skin wrinkles as we age. Wrinkled skin is almost something that we’ve all come to accept as an inevitable part of the aging process. Have you ever stopped to wonder, though, just why it is that our skin wrinkles as we age? How about the fact that some people have more wrinkles than others? How about whether or not something can be done about it?

Well, there are a number of approaches that can be taken to help combat the appearance of wrinkles in the skin. The basic underlying reason that our skin wrinkles with age is because we “dry out.” As we age, our bodies actually lose moisture little by little – and the end result is that we all “shrivel” up a bit. The drying out process can be accelerated by environmental factors such as prolonged exposure to the sun and smoking. Luckily, however, this drying out process can be slowed somewhat by the wide range of topical cosmetics that deliver lubricants and moisturizers back to the surface of the skin. A different approach to preventing the drying and wrinkling effects of aging is to moisturize the skin by providing nourishment from the inside – with balanced nutrition and dietary supplements that help to improve the efficiency of the turnover process.

As we age, the deeper layer of skin, known as the dermis, gets thinner. The progressive breakdown of collagen and elastin (which can be accelerated by sunlight and cigarette smoke) results in a loss of skin strength and a reduced ability to maintain adequate levels of lubricating fluid. Proper dietary support can help to reduce the destruction of collagen and promote the synthesis of stronger collagen fibers.

Hair and nails are composed of another structural protein called keratin. In many ways, keratin is similar to collagen – both are long strand-like proteins that serve a structural function in the body. The composition of the amino acid building blocks, however, is a bit different between collagen and keratin. In collagen, more than half of the amino acids are accounted for by proline, glycine or hydroxyproline. Keratin also contains fairly high levels of glycine and proline, which account for about 20% of the molecule, but it also contains about 10% of another amino acid called cysteine – something that collagen lacks.

Brittle hair and nails are a common complaint affecting about 30-40% of the population. Although weak brittle hair and nails can be the result of a variety of factors such as environmental exposure, the process of keratin synthesis can be enhanced by the same steps which enhance collagen synthesis.

With age, a number of noticeable changes in collagen structures become apparent. Collagen fibers lose their elasticity – so we may become “droopy” in areas of our body which used to be firm. Collagen in skin begins to lose its ability to hold water, so our skin dries out and begins to wrinkle. The keratinized cells, destined to become strands of hair, become fewer in number and lose their ability to produce pigment – so we either go bald or turn gray. With age, cartilage cells lose their ability to produce new collagen – so we lose cartilage thickness and our joints begin to ache. Bones become weaker over time as the rate of collagen and mineral breakdown exceeds our ability to replace losses with healthy tissue.

If we could just balance the collagen turnover process, or better yet, tip the scales slightly in our favor – we could balance out the destruction and repair of our vital connective tissues and prevent (or delay) some of the conditions that we normally associate with aging.

Thanks for reading – be sure to tune in for the next installment about “Skin Stress

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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