Get to Know Your Skin and Be Kind to It
The skin is an open book to your state of health. Pale, yellow skin denotes illness. Very red skin suggests high blood pressure. Flaky, mottled, and rough skin suggests that it is neglected or abused. Thin skin is related to alcoholism and gray, dull, sagging skin is the hallmark of the long-term smoker. Sun-damaged skin is wrinkled, dark and rough, with many red and raised marks called keratoses. Physical stress from the sun, heat, and cold will slowly damage the structure of the skin, causing it to wrinkle and sag. Even mental stress can affect it.
The Three Basic Layers of the Skin
The epidermis, or outer layer, is the active growing layer of the skin, which provides a tough outer layer of cells that protect us from the sun, cold, and keep water out. It is designed to shed or slough off at times, so we often see scales that we call "dry skin." This outer layer of cells is constantly being renewed by other cells at the bottom of the epidermis. The epidermis does not contain blood vessels and is nourished by a process called diffusion, in which fluid come from the blood vessels in the next lower layer, the dermis.
The dermis is the skin's support structure. It contains capillaries, which are small blood vessels, and thousands of nerve endings, which sense heat, cold, pressure, pain, pleasure, and itching. Its supporting structure contains three proteins known as collagen, elastin, and ground substance. Collagen is tough and prevents your skin from tearing except under the most extreme conditions. Elastin is a more delicate protein that provides elasticity to the skin so that when it is stretched, it goes back into shape. Ground substance is a gel-like material somewhat like gelatin, which acts as a medium in which the elastin and collagen can react.
The hypodermis is the fatty layer under the dermis, which contains fatty tissue that keeps us warm, stores energy and provides a cushion. The hypodermis contains large blood vessels and has some large nerve trunks. Picture it much like an urban underground, which contains the pipes and cables needed to run the city.
Your skin is a dynamic, ever growing organ that is vital. It keeps the good things in and the bad things out. It helps control body heat. When the inner body temperature gets above 98.6 F, we begin to sweat and as the sweat evaporates, it pulls heat from the skin and the blood, which cools down the body. Almost everything the body wants to get rid of is dumped into the skin in one form or another. It alters them chemically to a less toxic form and then either excretes them in sweat, sloughs them off in devitalized cells, or returns them to the body to be excreted by the kidney.
Perhaps the most important function of the skin is to provide the protective barrier on the outer surface of the body. This barrier, the stratum corneum, is composed of proteins and lipids, which are fatty or waxy type substances. This barrier controls the rate of water loss from inside the body and prevents water from getting into the skin from outside. The cells and components of the stratum corneum are made up of cells that are produced in the lower layers of the epidermis. Formation of these components requires good nutrition and protection from harmful environmental stress.
Aging and Your Skin
There is no absolute "old age" for anything. For instance, a star which is two billion years "old" is actually young; a dog at 16 years of age is old; and a human at age 16 is still a youth. Scientists like to define aging as a decline in functionality. That is, we simply do not function as well as we did in previous years. Aging is not inevitable! Aging is a continuous process of gradual loss in maximal functionality, associated with chronic inflammation that alters normal genetic control. The body has an enormous capacity to repair itself and its repair processes are under genetic control from the DNA in the nucleus of the cell. Over time, this control can be altered or changed so that not all of the information is copied correctly during cell reproduction.
Aging is Chronic Inflammation Due to Free Radical Damage to DNA
About one percent of the oxygen we breathe is converted into dangerous free radicals. Even though our DNA can repair itself remarkably well, some damage remains. Over the years, DNA damage accumulates and results in decreased functionality. Damage caused by free radicals to DNA does not have to happen, at least at the rate we see it happening everyday.
The first change we see in aging skin is sagging of the face. This is followed by fine lines and later, by coarse lines, which become deeper as the skin undergoes greater structural changes. These changes are followed by changes in color and texture. The skin becomes mottled and gray to yellow in color, with areas of red spots and dilated veins. Brown spots appear on the hands and face and the skin becomes thin.
Structural and Functional Changes
Structural changes are due to changes in the collagen and elastin under the skin's surface layer, and later by changes in the surface itself. Collagen decreases in the dermis, which causes sagging. This is followed by a loss of elasticity, which causes further sagging and lack of resilience. Blood circulation becomes decreased and tissue mass in the skin is reduced. This thinner skin is more transparent, showing large veins through the surface. The number of fibroblasts, which are responsible for new skin growth, also decreases. Then, the skin loses its ability to respond to stress. The immune response decreases and the ability to dissipate heat is lost, and the sensitivity to heat and cold decreases. The ability to repair chronic damage is decreased as turnover of cells is slower and wound healing is decreased.
The greatest environmental danger to the skin is the sun. Without sun exposure, the skin does not wrinkle or change color or become marred with red ugly spots. Excessive sun exposure damages the immune system in the skin, destroys both collagen and elastin production and kills some normal cells. At the same time, it damages the DNA repair system for other cells that are not killed. Heat and cold also damage skin and reduce functionality. The environment contains many chemical agents that react with the skin and create free radicals that in turn react with the compounds in the skin.
Good Nutrition Helps Retard the Appearance of Aging
As most people "prosper," they eat more. At the same time, the rate of chronic diseases occurring increases. Obesity, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure are all related in some manner to either overeating or improper eating. The number one problem is too many calories. Reduce the number of calories you eat by at least 25 percent. Next, add fresh fruits and vegetables, green leafy and yellow types, those rich in vitamin A and carotenoids. Eat whole grains, such as oats, wheat, whole rice, and rye, rather than white processed flour-containing products. Above all, avoid the synthetic trans-fats like margarine and hydrogenated shortening products. And don't forget-take your supplements!
To lose weight in a healthy way, we must control caloric intake and increase the amount of calories burned with some form of exercise. Regardless of the eating plan component of your weight-loss program, the following tips will help you accomplish your goals of healthy weight-loss and weight maintenance:
- Drink two or more quarts of water each day. This helps control your appetite. Sometimes a feeling of hunger is actually thirst. Additionally, water is necessary to carry away the breakdown byproducts of fat.
- Carry a little sport bottle at all times. If you feel hungry, take a drink. This works great, for example, when you're at your desk or computer as it helps to curb your appetite.
- Use small plates and eating utensils. You will feel that you have eaten more, because the portions will look bigger. This will reinforce your mental perception of eating a "full plate."
- Slow down your eating pace every way you can. For instance, if you are right-handed, eat with your left and vice versa. Put your fork down after each bite and don't pick it up until you have completely swallowed the last bite.
- Chew every bite at least thirty times. Your food will taste better and you will be much more satisfied. Don't swallow until the entire flavor is gone from each bite.
- Brush your teeth after every meal. You will be less tempted to eat if you do. Brush and floss after your evening meal; many people agree this helps avoid late-night cravings for snacks.
- Both sodas and juices are loaded with calories that are simple carbohydrates. These trigger insulin production, hunger and are pretty much "empty calories," lacking other important nutrients, such as protein. Drink water instead.
- Pay attention to when and what you are eating. Ask yourself: "Do I really want to eat this?" Never eat on the run-wait until you arrive. Otherwise, your body won't even realize you have eaten.
- Don't keep junk food snacks around the house. Eat healthy snacks like carrots, celery-even beef jerky. Avoid eating lots of fruit, which are high in carbohydrates; reasonable quantities are ok.
- Eat lots of fiber. Fiber is great for helping you feel full as well as helping to cleanse your digestive track. The natural cleansing helps improve both your energy level and overall feeling of wellness.
- Before going to a restaurant or party, think about what you will eat. When you get there, remember your plan. Alcoholic beverages can add lots of calories. Drink a glass of skim milk or some healthy snacks before you leave.
- Don't get discouraged when you plateau. Realize this up front. Plateauing is healthy and necessary. During these times, focus on drinking more water and a little extra walking each day. Remember the three laws of success in dieting: "Consistency, consistency, and consistency."
- Use visualization. Picture yourself as you would like to be and focus on that picture as often as possible. Find an old photo that you like of yourself when you were thinner. Have copies made and put one in your purse or wallet, on the refrigerator door, at your desk, on the bathroom mirror and anywhere you can think of to help you visualize your new, thinner self.
- Above all - WRITE IT DOWN. Keep an eating diary. Carry a piece of paper folded up or an index card in your pocket, purse, or wallet and write down everything you eat during the day. Look up the foods in a reference book at home in the evening and add up the calories actually consumed. This is a great learning tool. You don't have to do this all the time, but it is good to do during the early stages and when you plateau.
Last year, researchers at Michigan State University looked at 68 studies, conducted over 40 years and involving 5,000 subjects, which related attractiveness to intellectual competence. Across the board, good-looking people were rated more capable that their less-attractive peers.