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Eating for a healthy headspace

There is perhaps no better time for a dietitian like myself to be having an honest conversation about the connection between nutrition and mental health. The two most cost common mental health disorders, depression and anxiety, affect more than half a billion people globally1 Anxiety affects around 4% of the total population across all demographics


There is perhaps no better time for a dietitian like myself to be having an honest conversation about the connection between nutrition and mental health.

The two most cost common mental health disorders, depression and anxiety, affect more than half a billion people globally1

Anxiety affects around 4% of the total population across all demographics starting at age 15+, but is slightly higher in those that are over 502

Depression follows a similar trend, but spikes more significantly in those aged 50+ as compared to anxiety disorders. 3

The global pandemic has undeniably taken a toll on the health and happiness of people around the world and while food only represents part of the mental health picture, it’s one we certainly cannot ignore.

There is an undeniable connection between food, nutrition and human mental health and happiness.

For many of us, there are only a few things in life that might bring us more joy and anticipation than our favourite meal.

And there is so much more to it than that.

We are at a point in scientific discovery now where the connection between certain foods and nutrients and mental health outcomes like anxiety and depression is better understood than it has ever been before.

It is these discoveries, and more, that I plan to explore in today’s article.

What Does The Research Tell Us?

There are two primary bodies of research evidence in the world of nutrition and mental health.

The first is the observational evidence which looks at the dietary differences between those who do and do not have depression and anxiety and tries to establish certain key foods and nutrients that are associated with an increased or reduced risk of these conditions.

The second is the experimental evidence, which looks at people who already have symptoms of depression and anxiety and evaluates whether or not dietary changes can help modify those symptoms.

Let’s take a look at what each research category has to each us about the connection between nutrition and mental health.

The Observational Evidence

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation between a person’s dietary pattern and their risk of depression.

In 2017 a significant review of studies from ten countries found that certain foods were either predictive of, or protective against, depression risk.4

The food components that were protective included:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Olive Oil
  • Dietary Antioxidants*

*Nuzest Good Green Vitality is enriched with antioxidants from a variety of sources and can help increase the antioxidant quantity in your diet.

The food components that were predictive included:

  • Red meat
  • Processed meat
  • Refined grains
  • High-fat dairy products
  • Sweets
  • Animal Protein*

*Nuzest Clean Lean Protein is an 100% plant-based protein product that can help improve your plant to animal based protein intake ratio.

Researchers believe that the interaction between these foods and depression risk has a great deal to do with how they interact with blood sugar levels, the immune/inflammatory systems and the gut microbiome 5

Given the increasing interest specifically around gut health and the gut-brain connection, I want to take a moment to explore it further.

Gut Health And Mental Health

The gut-brain connection refers to the intricate chemical messaging system that takes place between the human brain and digestive tract, which we know is heavily influenced by our gut bacteria.

Naturally, this makes gut health an interesting topic in the world of mental health nutrition.

A 2019 study out of the British Medical Journal found, for example, that the use of prebiotics and probiotics may represents a useful complimentary treatment approach for both anxiety depression. 6

Although both studies admit more research will be required, the potential protective effect of probiotics  was also eluded to in a more recent 2020 systematic review published in Frontiers In Neurology.7

Nuzest’s Good Green Vitality contains 8 million probiotic cultures as well as prebiotic fibres from a number of sources including flaxseed and psyllium husk.

While both pre and probiotics are commonly consumed in supplemental form, as there are also certain widely available foods in each category that allow us to access these potential benefits from our day to day diet.

Examples of common foods rich in prebiotics:

  • Artichoke
  • Onion
  • Asparagus
  • Leek
  • Banana
  • Oatmeal
  • Apples

Examples of common foods rich in probiotics:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha

While we can’t say with certainty the inclusion of pre and probiotic containing foods or supplements will protect against or reduce the symptoms of depression, it is undoubtedly an area of great interest and putting forth some level of effort into the inclusion of these foods may represent a low risk strategy for many people to improve dietary diversity and gut health.

Further Experimental Evidence

Now that we have a better understanding of some of the food components associated with good mental health outcomes the next big question we have to ask is whether or not an individual suffering from a mental health disorder can experience symptom reduction by improving the quality of their diet.

This question was answered in resounding fashion via a now renowned 2017 mental health study known as the SMILES Trial.

The trial evaluated the impact of working with a dietitian over a 12 week period on individuals who were living with moderate to severe depression, many of whom were undergoing some form of therapy.

It found this nutrition-focused intervention to significantly improve depression symptoms in this population and has since paved the way for further similar studies.8 

Since its publication, further high quality experimental studies have emerged exploring the positive effects of dietary improvements on the improvements of people living with depression, thus confirming the massive role that nutrition intervention has to play in the world of mental health. 9, 10

And the experimental evidence does not stop there.

Omega-3s And Anxiety

A massive review published in the acclaimed JAMA journal found, for example, that omega-3 supplementation has a clinically meaningful role to play in reducing anxiety symptoms. 11

The amount of omega-3 required to achieve this affect was 2000 mg daily.

Which is approximately the same amount found in:

  • 150 grams of salmon, sardines, trout & other fatty fish
  • 1 tbsp of flaxseed, chia seed
  • 2 tbsp walnuts

Because the human body cannot synthesize omega-3 fatty acids, they are considered essential fatty acids which must be consumed from either food or a supplemental source.

They are also well known for their anti-inflammatory capabilities, which may further contribute to their protective effect as evidenced by studies showing that high fish intake is often associated with a lower risk of depression12.

Given the relatively few foods that are a rich source of omega-3s, it is important to proceed accordingly to ensure dietary adequacy, especially for those looking to optimize their mental health through dietary modification.

Other Nutrients Of Interest

I’d like to round off the focus on nutrition and mental health by exploring three more nutrients of interest, each of which have been implicated as potentially protective against depression. 13

They include:

Zinc – found in animal products such as seafood, dairy, meat as well as legumes, seeds and whole grains.

Folate – found largely in leafy greens, legumes and fruit.

Magnesium – found largely in leafy greens, nuts, seeds and legumes.

While we can’t say with certainty that eating more of these specific nutrients is protective against depression, the evidence suggests that they just may be.

Final Thoughts – Looking Beyond The Nutrients

As today’s discussion draws to a close, I believe that it’s important to acknowledge that the interaction between mental health and nutrition goes well beyond the role of specific foods or nutrients.

A 2015 study out of Thailand demonstrated that those who more regularly ate meals with others, rather than alone, tended to be far happier.14 

Obviously social interaction is one of the many external variables that can modify mental health status.

We also know, for example, that high levels of stress are often associated with poor digestive health outcomes due to the strong gut-brain connection that was discussed previously in this article.

This explains why the relaxation practice of meditation has been increasingly linked with improved mental and digestive health outcomes. 14

While stress management comes in different forms for different individuals, a daily meditation practice can be facilitated by a wide array of smartphone apps and online guides and has becomingly increasing acknowledged as valuable and accessible tool.

The body of research in the world of mental health is vast and while I’ve only just scratched the surface in today’s piece I do genuinely hope you will come away from today’s article with meaningful and actionable takeaways that will serve to better the state of mental health in our world.

Until next time,

Andy De Santis RD MPH

Andy De Santis

Maximising mood in your minis

In the most recent surveys looking at mental health in Australia, almost 1 in 7 children and adults aged 4-17 had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder; nearly half (45%) of adults had been.1 [aihw] As parents, we want to do everything we can to protect our children and try to prevent these illnesses


In the most recent surveys looking at mental health in Australia, almost 1 in 7 children and adults aged 4-17 had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder; nearly half (45%) of adults had been.1 [aihw] As parents, we want to do everything we can to protect our children and try to prevent these illnesses manifesting. Of course, this advice isn’t a cure-all. Sometimes, no matter what we’ve tried, our children will end up with a diagnosis of this kind, but by focussing on good nutrition and lifestyle modifications, we can help to reduce the risk.

Good food for good mood

Like most health states, people of all ages who have, or are at risk for, mental health disorders should aim for a varied diet including a range of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, meat or beans and tofu, nuts and seeds and a few treats. Try to keep sugary, fatty treats as a ‘sometimes’ food – there is some evidence suggesting that diets high in both saturated fat and sugar can affect a substance made in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF); BDNF is often low in people with depression, and when levels increase symptoms of depression can improve.2 [O’Neil] There are a few nutrients we can make extra effort to include which have been shown to be protective against mental health disorders:

  • Omega-3 fats: there are a number of ways that these fats might help to protect against depression. It might be that they protect the brain and its processes, or perhaps that they reduce inflammation (which is commonly seen in people with depression). [Grosso] Science isn’t sure yet, but we do recommend including them in the diet. Oily fish is an excellent source of omega-3s, but seeds like flax and chia, walnuts and soybeans are great vegan sources of omega-3s.
  • Tryptophan: a necessary component of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’ (low levels of this hormone contribute to both anxiety and depression), tryptophan cannot be made in the body and must be present in adequate amounts in the diet to ensure enough serotonin can be made. Higher intake of tryptophan has been shown to lead to lower rates of depression, irritability and anxiety.3 [Lindseth] Tryptophan is an amino acid – the building blocks of protein – so is usually found in high protein foods like poultry, eggs, dairy, peanuts and pumpkin and sesame seeds. If you prefer a protein powder or shake, look for one that is a ‘complete protein’ like Nuzest’s Clean Lean Protein, this means all the amino acids (and therefore tryptophan) are present.
  • Pre and Probiotics: there is a reason our stomachs are sometimes called our “little brain”. We’ve long known that our brain controls our gut, but we now know that the gut can influence the brain, too. Remember serotonin that we talked about above? About 95% of serotonin is made in the gut,5 [banskota] so it’s important to keep our guts healthy. Taking pre and probiotics can improve the microbiota (the mix of bacteria living in our stomach and intestines), and can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.6 [liang].

Along with a variety of fruits and vegetables and a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, Nuzest’s Kids Good Stuff contains 3billion CFU probiotics plus prebiotics from flaxseed, psyllium husk and apple pectin to help protect all aspects of children’s health.

Other lifestyle tips

It’s usually best to approach any illness with a holistic approach – that means not just focussing on symptoms but looking at the body and mind as a whole, and trying more than one treatment. So while you make small tweaks to the diet, you could also encourage some of the following:

  • Meditation and mindfulness can be a great practice for those with anxiety, depression and stress.
  • Sleep can be disturbed in those with poor mental health, aim for good sleep hygiene .
  • Exercise releases endorphins which can boost mood, even a short walk can be beneficial!
  • Socialising can be hard when suffering with depression or anxiety; encourage your children not to isolate themselves and continue seeing friends.

Medical help

This advice is intended to help your children boost their mood and reduce their risk of developing more serious mental health problems like depression and anxiety. If you suspect your child has a problem beyond low mood, it’s best to talk to your GP. Medication shouldn’t be feared! Work with your child’s doctor to find the best medication, if it’s necessary; your GP can also refer your child to a suitable therapist if needed.


References

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Mental health services in Australia. Prevalence, impact and burden. 2020. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
  2. O’Neil A, Quirk SE, Housden S, et al. Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: A systematic review. Am J Public Health 2014;104(10):e31-e42.
  3. Grosso G, Galvano F, Marventano S, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids and depression: Scientific evidence and biological mechanisms. Oxid Med Cell Longev 2014;2014:313570.
  4. Lindseth G, Helland B, Caspers J.  The effects of dietary tryptophan on affective disorders. Arch Psychiatr Nurs 2015;29(2):102-107.
  5. Banskota S, Ghia JE, Khan WI. Serotonin in the gut: Blessing or a curse. Biochimie 2019;161:56-64.
  6. Liang S, Wu X, Jin F. Gut-brain psychology: Rethinking psychology from the microbiota-gut-brain-axis. Front Integr Neurosci 2018;12:33.
Amy Butler

Is ageing the secret to happiness?

While you probably don’t need me to tell you that ageing, mental health and happiness are all deeply intertwined phenomena, their relationship is actually bit more complex than you might imagine. Allow me to explain. According to WHO data, global life expectancy has increased by over five years since the year 2000. 1 In fact,


While you probably don’t need me to tell you that ageing, mental health and happiness are all deeply intertwined phenomena, their relationship is actually bit more complex than you might imagine.

Allow me to explain.

According to WHO data, global life expectancy has increased by over five years since the year 2000. 1

In fact, there are more people aged 65+ on earth than at any time before in human history.

This wonderful new reality is at least partially a reflection of in improvements in modern medicine and enhanced living conditions, but also brings with it new challenges.

The 70+ age demographic, for example, has the highest prevalence of global depression and is followed closely by those aged 50-69.2

There are also a number of chronic conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, that disproportionately affect older adults.

On top of all of this, we are also faced with recent research published by the American National Bureau Of Economic Research that suggests happiness across the lifespan is “U-shaped”, meaning that it actually peaks in older age.3

So how do we reconcile these diverse findings?

Let’s find out.

The U-Shaped Happiness Trend

David Branchflower, an American professor of economics, published a paper in late 2019 which looked at happiness trends across the lifespan in over a hundred countries across the world. 

His work led him to the conclusion that trends in subjective happiness across the globe tended to follow a U-shape distribution.4

This essentially suggests that people start their lives incredibly happy as children and teens and eventually this happiness decreases over time as life’s responsibilities add up before it reaches a low point in our late 40s, after which happiness starts to increase again until it once again peaks later in life.

Several years before Branchflower demonstrated this U-shape trend using data from around the world, the United Kingdom’s Office For National Statistics did so with local data across the UK.5

Their study also found that life satisfaction, a sense of worthwhile and happiness ratings were highest in the 65 to 79 demographic and suggested afew potential reasons to explain the trend:

  1. The accumulation of life experiences and inevitable changes in the way we look at life that comes with age and may contribute to enhanced sense of wellbeing. Things that bothered us when we were younger, for example, may cease to do so in older age.
  •  The accumulation of wealth over time and an increase in leisure time that accompanies retirement and a potential decrease in responsibility as compared to working life.

The U-shaped trend doesn’t tell the whole story though, because in the 80+ demographic the risk of health issues and loneliness (perhaps due to a partner death) can take a serious toll on happiness.

In fact, the data out of the UK suggests that those aged 80+ were 2x as likely to report feeling lonely as the younger demographics.

So knowing this, how does can an older adult optimize their chances of being on the right side of the health and happiness curve as they age?

Mental Health, Happiness & Healthy Ageing

In order to explore this question, we must first understand the term healthy ageing,

The World Health Organization defines it as5:

 “The process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age”.

This definition heavily weighs the importance of older adults being able to engage in activities that they value, whether physically, socially, intellectually or otherwise.

It probably comes as no surprise that healthy eating, especially a diet which includes fruits and veggies, as well as regular physical activity habits at mid-life were predictive of healthy ageing later in life.6,7

This should serve as an important lesson to those currently middle aged who perhaps may undervalue the role these lifestyle factors play in a happy, healthy life in old age.

It’s also important to acknowledge that although these behaviours are more advantageous if maintained from a younger age, a 2013 paper out of the British Journal Of Sports Medicine found that it is never too late to start and even those who became more active later in life still enjoyed significant increases to their physical health and mental wellbeing8.

Blood cholesterol levels also appear to be an important consideration in cognitive decline in the elderly, with higher levels associated with greater rates of decline9.

The food groups that are most strongly associated with reductions in blood cholesterol levels include10:

  1. Tree nuts like almonds, walnuts, pecans
  2. Legumes include lentils, chickpeas and all varieties of beans
  3. Soy-based foods like tempeh, tofu, soy milk, edamame and so on
  4. Soluble fibres such as those found in psyllium husk and flaxseed*
  5. Plant-based components (plant sterols) found in most fruits/veggies*

**Both of which are part of Nuzest’s Good Green Vitality blend

With these points in mind, I’d like to take this opportunity to pivot away from the physiological contributors to healthy aging and happiness and shift towards the social support considerations.

If you’d like to learn more about the nutritional aspects of mental health, please refer to our previous article on the topic here.

Social Support, Family & Happiness In Old Age

A strong social support network is considered one of the most powerful predictors of healthy aging11.

It follows that a healthy home environment and the presence of family and community play massive roles in maintaining happiness and mental health in old age.

In fact, family plays an even bigger role than you might think.

Scientists have determined that certain genes in the APOE grouping are heritable and associated with longevity and a longer lifespan12.

Although we can’t do much to alter our genetics, I certainly found this an interesting finding to end today’s article on.

I hope you found it insightful start to finish.

Until next time,

Andy

Andy De Santis

Healthy Ageing with Clean Lean Protein

We often hear about the importance of protein for the growth and maintenance of muscle mass, but what about the importance of protein as we age? Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Rachel Hawkins, discusses how protein can help to support healthy ageing below. What is protein and why is it important? Proteins are large molecules that are


We often hear about the importance of protein for the growth and maintenance of muscle mass, but what about the importance of protein as we age? Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Rachel Hawkins, discusses how protein can help to support healthy ageing below.

What is protein and why is it important?

Proteins are large molecules that are made up of smaller building blocks called amino acids. Protein is present in all living cells, thus has many important functional and structural properties.1

In the human body, protein can be found in:1,2

  • muscle mass, bones, organs, hair skin and nails
  • collagen which provides strength and structure to tissues such as cartilage
  • haemoglobin which transports oxygen around the body
  • enzymes which regulate aspects of metabolism by supporting chemical reactions that allow us to digest food and generate energy to contract muscles
  • hormones which act as chemical messengers in the body
  • antibodies which play a role in immunity

There are twenty amino acids that link together in different combinations to carry out varying functions listed above. In addition, protein can also be used as an energy source.

Of the twenty amino acids found in proteins, eleven of these can be made in the body. These are referred to as non-essential amino acids. The remaining nine amino acids cannot be made in the body; therefore, you must consume these in the diet in order for the body to function properly. These are called essential amino acids (as they are essential for normal bodily function).

Is all protein equal?

The nutritional value of a protein is measured by the quantity of essential amino acids it contains. Different foods contain different amounts of essential amino acids, therefore not all protein is made equal.

Animal products such as chicken, beef, fish and dairy contain all nine essential amino acids and are considered ‘complete’, high quality food sources of protein. Plant-based products such as beans, lentils, nuts and wholegrains typically lack at least one essential amino acid, thus are considered ‘incomplete’ proteins.

There are some plant-based foods such as soy products, quinoa and European golden peas, the peas used in Nuzest Clean Lean Protein, that contain all nine essential amino acids. This makes these foods a great addition to a vegan or vegetarian diet, as this way of eating makes it more challenging to ensure an adequate mix of essential amino acids are being consumed through the diet.

How much protein do we need?

The amount of protein that we need to consume via the diet varies depending on your age, weight, gender, and health status.1 As a rough guide, it is suggested that healthy women aged 19-70 years require 0.75g protein per kilogram of body weight each day, while men in this same age bracket require 0.84g protein per kilogram of body weight each day.1

Do protein requirements change as we age?

Our protein requirements increase as we age. This is because ageing bodies process protein less efficiently, meaning that we need more of it in order to maintain muscle mass, strength, bone health and other physiological functions.3

The Australian and New Zealand Nutrient Reference Values indicate that men and women over 70 years of age should consume roughly 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight each day.1 However, experts in the field of protein and ageing suggest that a protein intake between 1.2-2g per kilogram of body weight each day is more appropriate in order to maintain structure and function.3,4 This means that a 75 year old woman who weighs 65kg should aim to consume between 78-130g protein each day.

What happens if we don’t consume enough protein as we age?

Inadequate protein intake can impact our ability to maintain independence, quality of life and good health as we age. This is because one of the major threats to living independently is the loss of muscle mass, strength and function that occurs progressively from around 50 years of age. This is known as sarcopenia.5,6 The reduction of total body protein that occurs as we age also reduces physiological proteins such as organ tissue, blood components, and immune bodies, which contributes to impaired wound healing, loss of skin elasticity, and an inability to fight infection, thus resulting in longer recovery time following illness or injury.3,5,6

Why do we struggle to consume enough protein as we age?

It is not uncommon for people eat less food with age. This can be attributed to factors such as a lack of appetite, changes to smell and taste, living alone, loss of interest in cooking, and difficultly in eating due to teeth, gum or denture problems. Eating less food means that older adults often miss out on consuming enough protein despite their needs being higher. In fact, several studies show that elderly people consume less than the daily recommended amount of protein.4,7,8

Ways to get more protein into your diet with Clean Lean Protein

Made from European golden peas, Nuzest Clean Lean Protein is a complete source of plant-based protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids required to support healthy ageing.

Pack more protein into your diet with Clean Lean Protein…

  • Mix a scoop of Clean Lean Protein into your yogurt for a protein rich snack. Top with fresh fruit and unsalted nuts for extra crunch and flavour.
  • Boost the protein content of your meals by fortifying them with Clean Lean Protein. Try making this Vegan Mac N’ Cheese, Vegan Shepherd’s Pie or Lentil and Coconut Soup to see how easy it is to squeeze extra protein into your meals.
  • Stir a serve of Clean Lean Protein through a dip, such a hummus, and enjoy with vegetables sticks or wholegrain crackers for a high protein snack.
  • Add two scoops of Clean Lean Protein to a smoothie for a hit of protein. I can never go past a simple banana and cinnamon smoothie. Blend 1 frozen banana, 2tbs oats, 2 scoops Smooth Vanilla Clean Lean Protein, 1tsp cinnamon and a handful of ice cubes together and enjoy!
  • Consume a simple protein shake made with Clean Lean Protein and 300ml of your choice of milk following physical activity to help with muscle recovery.
  • Incorporate Clean Lean Protein into your baking to boost the protein content of sweets and desserts. Try this Chocolate Raspberry Cake and Almond Butter and Jam Sundae!

References

1. https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/protein

2. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/protein

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4924200/

4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23867520/

5. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/protein

6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15640517/

7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14641970/

8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18469286/

Rachel Hawkins

How to balance your hormones naturally

Hormonal health is central to our overall health and well-being. From our brains to our hearts, skin, kidneys and muscles, each part of our body is in some way controlled by hormonal signals. These hormones are released by a series of glands around our body which, along with tissues and organs, make up our Endocrine


Hormonal health is central to our overall health and well-being. From our brains to our hearts, skin, kidneys and muscles, each part of our body is in some way controlled by hormonal signals. These hormones are released by a series of glands around our body which, along with tissues and organs, make up our Endocrine System.

So, what are hormones?

Broadly speaking, hormones are our body’s chemical messengers which control several physiological functions including:

  • Growth and development
  • Metabolism
  • Reproduction
  • Electrolyte balance and composition[1]

Each hormone class differs in terms of their mechanism of action; that is their ability to target and activate specific cells in the body.

The endocrine system receives input from the nervous system, which directs the activity of hormones throughout the body[2]. The amazing ability of our nervous system to communicate information between body systems in a fraction of a second is what keeps those systems healthy, functional and efficient[3]. Hormone production and secretion is tightly controlled by a process called homeostasis – our body’s way of bringing everything back into its ideal state[4].

There are many hormones produced by different endocrine glands throughout the body. Our major endocrine glands include[5]:

  • Hypothalamus (brain)
  • Anterior/Posterior Pituitary Gland (brain)
  • Adrenal Cortex (brain)
  • Testes (reproductive)
  • Ovaries (reproductive)
  • Thyroid gland (metabolic)
  • Parathyroid gland (metabolic)
  • Pancreas (metabolic)

My aim is to summarise a list of common hormonal imbalances, and support those facts with the latest scientific evidence on optimal health and nutrition support.

How do hormones become unbalanced?

Hormones fluctuate naturally over time in response to physiological changes, or changes in the external environment.

During various life stages, hormonal shifts can occur naturally; notably during women’s monthly menstruation, ovulation, pregnancy and menopause, which all cause changes in female sex hormones[6].

Our modern environment exposes us to many stressors including psychological, environmental and medical[7]. Often the foods we choose, and lifestyles we engage in (known as our modifiable risk factors), are strong contributors to hormonal health[8].

Metabolic

Insulin and glucagon are two of the more well-known hormones affected by our diet. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to increased glucose (carbohydrates) in the blood; it therefore plays a key role in modulating blood glucose levels[9].

Glucagon is also a hormone released by the pancreas, this one in response to decreased glucose in the blood; thus, playing a key counteracting role to insulin[10].

When glucose intake is high and energy surpluses are sustained long term, insulin resistance and/or Type 2 diabetes may result. This occurs when insulin is overproduced as a compensatory effect to manage blood glucose levels. Over time these insulin-producing cells become worn out[11].

Development of Type 2 diabetes is greatly increased if a number of modifiable risk factors are present[12]:

  • Physical inactivity;
  • Overweight/Obesity;
  • High blood pressure; or
  • Blood lipid imbalance – low HDL (good cholesterol), high LDL (bad cholesterol).

Symptoms of Diabetes/Insulin Resistance [13]:

  • Increased thirst and urination;
  • Lethargic
  • Increased hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness/tingling in hands or feet
  • Poor wound healing

* Many conditions can result in these signs and symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Stress

Stress begins in, and affects, the brain, as well as echoing physiological effects throughout the entire body[14].  Our adrenal glands (located on the tops of our kidneys) produce cortisol and epinephrine, which are also referred to as our main ‘stress hormones’.

Stress (the ‘fight or flight’ response to perceived danger) causes the release of cortisol and epinephrine[15]. Whilst stress is extremely useful in responses to short term danger, chronic or excessive secretion of cortisol may actually contribute to dysfunction (i.e. secondary effects of inflammatory/oxidative damage)[16].

Chronic stress is often accompanied by lifestyle choices or personal behaviours (i.e. surplus energy intake, alcohol intake, smoking, drugs or sleep quality[17]) and can impact further physiological processes, of which the effects are continuing to be investigated[18].

Reproductive Hormone Disorders in Women

Reproductive hormonal conditions pose a major challenge for many women, due to the increased risk of adverse reproductive, foetal or maternal outcomes[19]. These conditions result when abnormal levels of sex hormones are produced (or insufficiently produced), and cause health repercussions[20].

Some common conditions, and symptoms of these conditions in females are listed and analysed below. If you are experiencing any symptoms listed below, please consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Most commonly developed during a women’s reproductive years, PCOS affects one in ten women of child-bearing age[21]. PCOS can cause irregular or missed periods, and may lead to to infertility, and/or development of cysts in the ovaries[22].

Many women suffering PCOS have insulin resistance, which is when the body’s cells do not respond efficiently to insulin from increased glucose levels.

PCOS has been linked to other health conditions, including diabetic and cardiovascular complications later in life[24]. Symptoms are heterogenous in nature, but are generally characterised by excess hair growth, irregular periods, acne, thinning hair or weight gain[25].

The cause of PCOS is not definitive, however, like all disease processes is multifactorial in nature. Research suggests hormonal imbalance as a cause to part of the issue. Increased levels of androgen (a predominate male hormone, however women produce small amounts) in the blood can prevent ovulation and cause acne and excess hair growth[26].

Endometriosis

Estimated to affect 10% of women in their reproductive years, endometriosis is defined by the growth of tissue (endometrium) on the outside of the uterus and other parts of the body[27].

Similar to PCOS, the definitive cause of endometriosis is unknown, however research suggests oestrogen as a promotive factor – when tissue grows on the outside, oestrogen signalling is disrupted, causing dominance[28].

Symptoms and clinical presentations are highly variable, however, may include painful menstrual periods, pelvic pain, bleeding/spotting between cycles, infertility or digestive problems[29].

Acne

One of the most common skin disorders affecting 9.4% of the world’s population, with highest prevalence in adolescents, and in women (when compared with men)[30].

Acne may present as a cause of excess levels of androgen hormones (hyperandrogenism), as well as the activity of other hormones, particularly flaring up around the time of menstruation due to their ability to stimulate sebum production[31].

What we eat also impacts on skin health, with nutrients such as Vitamin A (found in carrots, capsicum) Vitamin D (found in egg yolk, mushrooms, oily fish), Omega-3s (found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, oily fish, seaweed) and Vitamin E (found in nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables) [32] having beneficial effects. Furthermore, consumption of low-GI carbohydrates (i.e. rolled oats, wholemeal bread, brown rice and fruit) has shown promising effects towards promoting healthier skin[33]. Studies are still evolving in finding best clinical practice to treating hormonal acne[34].

Infertility

Reproductive disorders which affect ovulation (PCOS, endometriosis, adenomyosis and uterine fibroids) share infertility as a symptom of a hormonal dysfunction[35]. The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies infertility as a ‘global public health issue’, estimating that over 10% of women will experience this[36]. Causes are highly varied, and can include complications in males, females, or a combination of contributing factors[37].

A diet high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, dietary fibre and healthy fats have been shown to improve fertility in women[38].

Amenorrhea

Often indicative of a health problem/hormonal imbalance rather than being defined as a ‘disease’ itself. Amenorrhea can be defined as primary and secondary. Primary amenorrhea is the failure of menstruation to start by sixteen years[39].

Potential causes may be genetic or hormonal, where problems with the hypothalamus or pituitary gland may cause imbalances[40].

Secondary amenorrhea can be defined as the absence of a period for at least six months after normal menstruation. Hypothalamic amenorrhea is where our hypothalamus fails to produce enough gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is the hormone which signals the start of a menstrual cycle[41].

Common causes of this type of amenorrhea in women include:

  • Low body fat percentage/low body weight
  • Very low caloric intake
  • Extreme exercise without adequate caloric compensation
  • Leptin deficiency (appetite regulating hormone)
  • Certain medical conditions

If any of these issues are of concern to your current health, please consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

How to Support Hormonal Health

Hormonal balance is extremely complex and very individualised. Increasing awareness on hormonal actions in the body can help bring some awareness when things just aren’t feeling right!

Fortunately, there are many ways we can support our hormonal health which involve engaging in balanced eating patterns, healthy lifestyle behaviours, and taking time for yourself:

  1. Engage in regular physical activity. Do something that you ACTUALLY look forward to! If the gym isn’t, for you, try outdoor walks, dancing, yoga, Pilates, gardening etc.

  2. Consume a balanced diet, abundant in vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids, lean protein sources. Limit intakes of discretionary items such as red/processed meats, sugar sweetened beverages, sugar confectionary, saturated fat and sodium. Incorporating plant variety into your diet is an excellent way to cover a broad range of essential vitamins and minerals.

    For some, the pace of everyday life can limit our ability to fit this into our day. While we cannot ignore the irreplaceable benefits of a balanced, whole-food diet, Nuzest’s Good Green Vitality can help support those nutritional gaps in your day. With a spectrum of 20 plant foods, this easy to take powder contains 24 vitamins and minerals, probiotics, fibre and herbal blends to help support your general and hormonal health.
     
  3. Limit alcohol to no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion and aim to increase your amount of alcohol-free days.

  4. Find a qualified health professional you feel comfortable discussing your symptoms of concern to.

  5. Reduce lifestyle and mental stressors. Ensure you are taking time to evaluate what is stressing you out during the day and to seek support to reduce it. Find something each day that makes you smile!

I have covered a broad range of hormones (which has barely scratched the surface of how complex these chemicals really are!) and have hopefully provided you with some guidance on how to best support your hormonal well-being. As stated, if you think any of this information applies to you, please seek guidance from a trusted, qualified health professional.

Tahlia Claringbold

Nutrition for girls: from birth to adulthood

Our nutritional needs vary according to which stage of life we are in; from birth to adulthood, changes in growth and development, puberty, increasing activity, learning and some health conditions can all raise the requirement for certain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat). If your child has a health condition affecting


Our nutritional needs vary according to which stage of life we are in; from birth to adulthood, changes in growth and development, puberty, increasing activity, learning and some health conditions can all raise the requirement for certain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat). If your child has a health condition affecting their nutritional needs, her paediatrician can refer you to a registered dietitian for more specific advice.

0-6 months

At this age, baby girls should be getting all the nutrients they need from breastmilk and/or formula. Animal and plant milks are not a suitable source of nutrition for infants; if a cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) is suspected in a formula-fed child, soy or hydrolysed formulas are available.

Though some doctors and paediatricians may advise that you can begin solid foods between four and six months, most dietitians agree that you should wait until at least six months, unless there is a medical need. The signs that your baby is ready to start solids include:

  • She can sit unsupported
  • She shows an interest in the food you eat
  • She has lost the tongue-thrust reflex

Ensure you have read about safe feeding practices and know the difference between gagging and choking to give you more confidence when starting to feed your baby solid foods.

6 months – 3 years

This is a period of rapid growth and development when requirements for both micronutrients and macronutrients are higher, on a per kilogram of bodyweight basis, than at any other time of life.1 Compared to adults, children up to 3 need more total energy (i.e. kilojoules ), protein and unsaturated fat per kilogram of bodyweight; they also have a higher need for water due to sweating less, and this need is increased further in times of fever, diarrhoea or extreme heat.2 At 6 months, babies have an increased need for iron which is often not adequately met by formula or breastmilk – serve an iron rich food (strips of meat, mashed beans and lentils or seeds like chia and hemp) with each meal to ensure she has plenty of opportunities to top up on her iron intake.

Good sources of protein and unsaturated fat for babies and toddlers include eggs (for young babies, serve scrambled or boiled and mashed on strips of toast, toddlers often find it fun to dip toast strips into a soft boiled egg), chia seeds (encourage your toddler to get involved by sprinkling the seeds on her food by herself!), oily fish like salmon and homemade hummus and pesto (increase omega-3 fats in hummus and pesto by replacing some of the olive oil with flaxseed or walnut oil).

Offering a varied diet, encouraging your children to eat intuitively and not forcing them to eat when they’re full or restricting food when you think they’ve eaten too much should ensure that children meet their nutritional needs and set them up for a healthy relationship to food in later life, a particular concern in girls for whom eating disorders and dieting are a continuing problem.

3 years – puberty

This is the period of slower growth between the high growth periods of infancy/toddlerhood and puberty. For girls, puberty usually starts between about 9 and 11 years, but can happen earlier or later – this is just an average. Genetics, race and diet can all affect the timing of puberty in girls, with diets high in processed, high-fat (predominately trans and saturated fats) foods associated with an earlier onset of puberty; conversely, underfeeding and malnutrition are associated with delayed onset of puberty.2

Continuing to feed a balanced and varied diet will support girls’ growth and development. Remember that a balanced diet does not mean that no processed foods or treats should be allowed! Moderation is key; to set our children up with the tools that will enable them to live a life free of restrictive food rules, modelling balance in food choices is a crucial step. Picky eating, common in toddlerhood, should begin to ease with children more open to trying new foods; for those in whom pickiness continues, a nutritional shake might be an appropriate addition to the diet to fill any gaps.

Puberty and adolescence

This is the second of the high growth periods of childhood, and as such nutritional needs are increased to meet the demands of this growth spurt. It is commonly understood that boys need to eat more during puberty and adolescence – the same is true of girls. While boys often need more total energy than girls, this is due only to a tendency for larger frames and higher muscle mass; the energy needed per pound of body weight is the same for boys and girls. During this time, girls should be strongly encouraged to eat to fullness, without restricting kilojoules or food groups, to ensure adequate nutrition to support growth. This is particularly important for girls who are athletic, participate in organised sports or practice dance or gymnastics, for whom nutritional needs are higher and there is often greater pressure to shrink to or maintain a smaller size.

Though protein needs are higher during puberty, the body has an increased efficiency for utilisation of dietary protein,2 so while you should continue  to ensure that your child is offered protein as part of meals and snacks regularly via meat, eggs, tofu, beans and lentils, fish or a protein shake (these are great for a quick snack after sports!), it’s not necessary to overthink it. Protein deficiency is rare in a standard western diet.

More common, is iron deficiency. While deficiency severe enough to cause anaemia is less common, a subclinical (i.e. causing few or no obvious symptoms) lack of iron is not unusual, especially among girls who have a heavy menstrual period. Many of the protein sources noted above are also high in iron, with green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli, seeds like chia and hemp and nuts like cashews being other great additions to boost iron intake. Serve iron with a source of vitamin C, like citrus, kiwis and capsicums, and separate from tea and coffee to enhance absorption.

There is also an increased need for calcium, zinc and folate.2 Calcium can be found in dairy products (and fortified dairy alternatives), green leafy vegetables like kale and broccoli (but not spinach, which is low in calcium compared with other green vegetables) and edamame beans. Zinc is found in meat, shellfish (especially oysters), chickpeas and other beans, and nuts and seeds. Folate is particularly important for anyone at risk of pregnancy (i.e. menstruating, sexually active and not using a reliable birth control method) since this B vitamin is vital for the early development of the foetus and is most needed in the time before a woman usually finds out she is pregnant. Beans and lentils, green vegetables (especially dark green like spinach and kale, though asparagus is also a good source), eggs and beetroot are good sources of folate. For anyone actively trying to get pregnant, it is recommended to take a supplement containing at least 400mcg of folate.

Late adolescence and early adulthood

Girls usually stop growing in height aged around 14 or 15, though weight is likely to continue to increase before stabilising at an appropriate adult weight for her height. During late adolescence, a woman’s nutritional needs are approximately the same as they will be for the remainder of her early adulthood until reaching menopause.

Key nutrients to focus on are iron and folate, for the same reasons they are important in early adolescence. Total energy needs may decrease depending on the level of activity – for many, high school includes a significantly higher amount of physical activity than is continued into adulthood, when work may include long periods of sedentary behaviour.

To mitigate the risk of osteoporosis (a disease overwhelmingly affecting women, who account for 80% of cases) in post-menopause, it’s important to maintain bone mineral density throughout adulthood; this can be achieved through regular resistance training and ensuring adequate intake of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K. Vitamin D is made by our skin from sunlight – be sure to follow safe sun practices! – but is also found in fatty fish, egg yolks and mushrooms. Vitamin K is found in highest amounts in dark green vegetables, like kale, spinach and chard, but is also in brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts), meat, kiwi avocado and cheese. Sources of calcium can be found in the section above.

The takeaway

It might seem overwhelming to think about all the nutrients that your girls need at different stages of life and development, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. By following healthy eating guidelines, including a rainbow of fruits and veggies each week, offering morning and afternoon tea as well as regular meal times, and placing some trust in them to eat to fullness, it should not be difficult for them to get everything their bodies need. If you have concerns, you could speak to her doctor about a suitable single or multivitamin supplement.

References

1. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Nutrition guide for clinicians.
2. Soliman A, De Sanctis V, Elalaily R. Nutrition and pubertal development. Indian J Endocrinol Metab 2014;18(Suppl 1):S39-S47.

Amy Butler

Nutrition for women’s health

In the context of women’s health, adequate nutrition plays an important role through the life stages. Throughout the lifetime of a woman, nutritional needs can vary greatly to that of men, particularly during reproductive years where hormonal changes require greater nutrient demands. The female body is biologically developed for reproductive preparedness; from early menstruation, to


In the context of women’s health, adequate nutrition plays an important role through the life stages. Throughout the lifetime of a woman, nutritional needs can vary greatly to that of men, particularly during reproductive years where hormonal changes require greater nutrient demands.

The female body is biologically developed for reproductive preparedness; from early menstruation, to pregnancy and lactation, through to menopause. Regardless, it is important that women are encouraged, supported and motivated to lead healthy lives.

In this article, I aim to systematically summarise the existing evidence, relative to a holistic perspective on women’s health to encourage long term wellness.  

Reproductive & Sexual Health

Nutrition and the female reproductive axis are closely linked. Healthy reproduction and fertility for women not only encompasses stages of physical well-being, but also includes the right to safe, appropriate and accurate information on sexual and reproductive health.

Besides nutrition, a number of factors also contribute to women’s fertility, such as stress, ageing, environmental pollutants, caffeine, alcohol and smoking status[1]

A women’s reproductive life consists of greater nutritional demands during menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause. If a woman chooses to conceive, she is more likely to have a healthy child and successful pregnancy, if she is healthy at the time of conception[2],  so here’s how we can work to support that early on.

Nutrition and Menstruation.

During the pre-menstrual phase, energy needs are generally higher[3], hence why some women have cravings in the 2 weeks lead up to her cycle.

The best way to support a healthy menstrual cycle is to ensure adequate nutrition. There are 2 major factors which are vital for healthy menstruation:

Energy Intake

Particularly during adolescence and puberty, a positive energy balance is essential for healthy development, menarche (periods) and regular menstruation[4]. Encouraging an adequate, balanced, whole food diet is the ideal way to support this stage of growth.

Examples of energy-dense, nutrient-dense foods to support healthy development may include nuts and seeds, nut butters, multigrain bread and dairy foods (milk, yoghurt, cheese).

Iron

Iron-deficiency anaemia is an prevalent condition in pre-menopausal, menstruating women across the globe[5], with over 20% of women experiencing this in their reproductive lives![6]

Some common symptoms and clinical presentations of iron deficiency may include: fatigue, irritability, dizziness, headaches and poor concentration[7]. Many conditions can result in these signs and symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please consult your doctor or for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Our best sources of iron come from haem-sources, (i.e. animal sources), as our body absorbs these better. Haem iron foods sources include lean red meats, fish and chicken.

Non-haem iron, (i.e. our plant sources can be found in foods such as fortified cereals, lentils, beans, tofu, broccoli, spinach, and multigrain bread[8].

Hormonal Health

For those that may not be aware, hormones are little messenger chemicals that are produced by our endocrine glands and released into our blood.

Humans have 8 major endocrine glands, and each is responsible for the production of different hormones to play different roles in our body (i.e. thyroid, adrenal, growth, hunger etc).

Us women have 2 main sex hormones called oestrogen and progesterone, and these are produced by our ovaries. These hormones are responsible for the development and functioning of the female reproductive system.

Oestrogen is responsible for the onset of puberty, bone strength, healthy menstruation, pregnancy and cholesterol levels[9], and therefore fluctuate in response to these life stages.

Progesterone is mainly responsible for thickening the uterine lining (endometrium) each month to prepare for and nourish a fertilized egg[10].

Too much, or too little of these hormones, caused by an inadequate diet, stress, or medical conditions (PCOS, endometriosis, obesity) can lead to acute health problems such as acne and constipation[11], or the development of more serious chronic conditions such as infertility, breast cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes[12].

So, what can we do to keep our hormones in balance?

I cannot stress the importance of making balanced lifestyle choices which are appropriate for your personal requirements, not anyone else’s.

  • Choose nutritious fruits, vegetables, dietary fibre, whole grains, dairy, lean meats/fish and legumes.
  • Find ways (or seek help) to reduce stress factors in your life.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 4 standard drinks on one occasion; and aim to increase your number of alcohol-free days.
  • Aim to limit excessive amounts of caffeine (from black/green tea, coffee, energy drinks and soft drinks)

If you suffer from painful, scarring acne, constipation, amenorrhoea (irregular, or no menstrual cycle), or any notable symptoms of possible hormonal imbalance, please consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Ageing & Menopause

Around 80% of women will experience some degree of physiological, psychological (or a combination) of menopausal symptoms[13]. This stage for mid-life women is often characterised by an onset of irregular menstrual cycles, fluctuations in mood, depression, anxiety, hot flushes and poor sleep[14].

Age-related physiological (bodily) changes such as appetite, energy expenditure, body adiposity (fat storage) and sleep patterns, can further add to the changed feelings and symptoms that women may experience during mid, to late life[15].

Let’s acknowledge, firstly, for those that may currently feel this, you are not alone, and us women will experience this at some stage in our lives.

Menopausal, or post-menopausal women should be encouraged to maintain and sustain a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Not only does this include the importance of what you are fuelling your body with, but with whom you socialise with, your time outdoors, maintenance of dental hygiene, physical activity, appropriate fluid intake.

Healthy Eating and Lifestyle for Older Women

  • Consume regular meals throughout the day. Keep nutrition exciting by filling your plate with bright coloured fruit and vegetables, different textures, and invite creativity with visual appeal to your plate. Get creative with your meals!
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Dieting for women over 65 years is not recommended. Please consult your doctor, or a dietitian for adequate assistance with weight maintenance.

Mental Health

Many women often neglect that much needed self-care when having to wear many hats during the day. In addition, facing the unique challenge of physical changes during pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause can promote additional stress.

Depression is not only stated as the most prevalent mental health condition among women but is more common among women as compared to men[16].

Anxiety, depression and other somatic (bodily) symptoms related affect 1 in 3 women, globally[17]. There are also certain mental conditions which are unique to women, including perinatal depression, post-natal depression…… Not only is this impacting women of reproductive age, but half of all mental illnesses have been shown to manifest prior to 14 years of age[18].

Modern diets have seen a shift in rates of ill mental health, increased consumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods, and diminished consumption of fibre[19]. Food thus plays a key role in our mental health. Sustained healthy eating patterns have shown a significant association to lowered risk of depression[20].

In addition, a Mediterranean style diet (i.e. a healthy diet characterised by fresh vegetables, fruit, oily fish, nuts, seeds and extra virgin olive oil), has shown a potential beneficial effect on people with depression and type 2 diabetes[21].

Ultimately, healthy sustainable dietary choices are the best way to support your mental health. Whilst acknowledging the irreplaceable benefits of a whole-food, nutrient dense diet, despite our best efforts, sometimes life gets busy and we need that bit of extra support for our health. Good Green Vitality, made from a spectrum of plant foods, contains 24 vitamins and minerals, probiotics, fibre and herbal blends to fill those nutritional gaps in your day. 

Physical Health & Performance

Engaging in regular physical activity can help to improve both women’s physical and mental health[22]. It is recommended adult women incorporate 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week[23].

When it comes to supporting our extra activity during the day, we want to ensure we are consuming foods that are supporting this. The types of physical activity you undertake will determine how aggressive you need to be with your approach to nutrition. However, as a general guide, there are a few key nutrients of focus.

Carbohydrates

Fuelling our activity with carbohydrates is essential for endurance. Choosing foods such as porridge, sandwich, pasta or cereal, 1-2 hours before a workout will help to sustain energy and endurance levels[24].

Fats

Fat intake slows the digestion of a meal, and thus inhibits absorption[25]. Hence, it may be recommended for some to consume low fat prior to training to allow for maximum carbohydrate absorption.

Protein

A highly discussed macro when it comes to training and performance. The average person requires between 0.8g/kg – 1.2g/kg body weight[26], meaning if you weigh 80kg, you will require anywhere between 64g and 96g of protein per day.

For active individuals, the upper end of the spectrum is where you most likely will sit. We can best support our muscle synthesis by consuming 4 ‘hits’ of protein each day, with 20-40g per ‘hit’[27].

Meat, poultry, seafood, milk, yoghurt, soybeans, hemp and eggs are all considered ‘high biological value’, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids (our protein building blocks).

Legumes, grains, cereals, nuts and seeds are considered ‘low biological value’, which means when eaten in isolation, they do not contain all 9 essential amino acids, hence need to be consumed in variety.

For those trying to lower meat consumption, the thought of increasing protein sources may seem daunting. Whilst a food-first approach is always the preferred approach, Nuzest Clean Lean Protein is a plant-based protein, providing a delicious alternative to upping your protein intake.  It provides all 9 essential amino acids, with 20g protein per 25g serve.

So, for all the women, I hope I have provided some food for thought. When it comes to looking after your health, work with professionals who make you feel comfortable, choose foods that make you feel good and live to make yourself happy.

Tahlia Claringbold

Nutrition for Boys: from Birth to Early Adulthood

Throughout life our nutritional needs change to meet differing demands due to growth and development, activity, puberty and some health conditions. Birth to adulthood is a time of rapid changes, and our needs for the macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) differ according to age and stage. If your child has


Throughout life our nutritional needs change to meet differing demands due to growth and development, activity, puberty and some health conditions. Birth to adulthood is a time of rapid changes, and our needs for the macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) differ according to age and stage. If your child has a health condition which affects his nutritional needs, your paediatrician can refer you to a registered dietitian or nutritionist for advice specific to your child.

0-6 months

Before six months, babies should be getting all their nutrition from breastmilk and/or formula; animal and plant milks aren’t appropriate for babies. If your formula-fed baby has a cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA), there are soy and hydrolysed formula options available.

You may have read (or been told by your doctor) that you can begin offering solid food between four and six months of age; most dietitians agree that you should wait until at least six months unless there is a true medical need.

You should wait to see the following signs of readiness before offering your son solids, such as:

  • he is sitting unsupported
  • he shows interest in your food
  • he has lost the tongue-thrust reflex.

Be sure to familiarise yourself with safe feeding practices and the difference between gagging and choking so you are more confident that you are feeding your baby safely when you start solids.

6 months – 3 years

This is a period of rapid growth, when children’s nutrient needs are higher, per kilogram of bodyweight, than at any other time of life.1 In particular, children need more total energy (kilojoules), protein, essential fatty acids and water – especially when they have a fever or diarrhoea, or on very hot days.1 Iron needs also increase and are difficult to meet through breastmilk or formula, so it is important to ensure that you are offering an iron-rich food source with every meal and snack. Great food sources of iron include meat, mashed beans and lentils – if you’re serving the same foods you eat and the meal is low in iron, an easy and quick addition are chia or hemp seeds sprinkled on top of their food!

Good sources of protein and unsaturated fats for children include eggs (serve scrambled or hard boiled and cut into quarters or mashed on toast for younger babies), seeds like chia or flax, oily fish like salmon or homemade pesto and hummus – you could even replace some of the extra virgin olive oil with walnut or flaxseed oil to boost the level of omega-3!

If your family already eats a varied diet there’s no need to make big changes for your baby or toddler, he can eat everything you eat (except honey if he’s under the age of one) as long as it’s served in a safe way to reduce choking risk; but be conscious of his extra needs for iron, protein and fats, and build meals around this. If your family’s diet isn’t as varied as you’d like, now is a great time to make some changes! Encourage your baby to eat intuitively – that means allowing him to eat until he is full without pressuring or cajoling him to eat more. Children are excellent intuitive eaters if given the chance and will rarely over or under eat; encouraging this from a young age will set him up to have a positive relationship with food throughout his life.

3 years – puberty

This is a period of slower growth between the high growth periods of infancy/toddlerhood and puberty. Puberty starts about age 10 or 11 for boys, though this is an average and may be a little earlier or later.2

Continuing to offer a varied diet, without restricting eating or pressuring children to eat, should be all you need to do to ensure adequate nutritional intake. Remember that a varied diet doesn’t mean no treats are allowed! Moderation is key – it’s not helpful to ban foods which are often labelled “unhealthy”, like high-sugar or high-fat convenience foods (both of which can have a place in a healthy diet, it’s all about balance), as this is likely to lead to overeating when the opportunity arises.

To learn more about smart snacking and support your children intuitively eat and reach for healthier foods, read our article on Children and Snacking: the good, the bad and the interesting.

Puberty and adolescence

At puberty your child once again enters a period of extremely rapid growth – in boys, weight gain increases from an average of 3kg per year to 9kg per year (almost all of which is made up of lean tissue, i.e. muscle and bone) and height increases from about 5cm per year to 9.5cm per year on average.2 All this growth requires a lot more food! This teenage growth spurt means both sexes need to increase their intake significantly (especially if they engage in a lot of sports or athletics) though boys usually need a bigger increase than girls, simply because they tend to be taller with bigger frames; the number of kilojoules per kilogram of bodyweight is the same for boys and girls.2

During this growth spurt, protein needs are increased; however, the body becomes much more efficient at using dietary protein.2 It’s still important to offer protein regularly, in the form of meat, eggs, tofu, beans and lentils or a high quality protein shake (great for a quick snack after sports!), but you probably don’t need to worry that they aren’t getting enough – protein deficiency is extremely rare in a standard western diet.

Of the micronutrients, there is an increased need for calcium, zinc and folate.2 Dairy is a good source of calcium, but there are other sources too, like fortified dairy alternatives, green leafy vegetables like broccoli and kale (not spinach, though, which is low in calcium compared with other green veggies) and edamame beans. Zinc can be found in meat and shellfish (especially oysters) with chickpeas, nuts and seeds being great plant-based sources. Green vegetables are a good source of folate, as well as beans and lentils, eggs and beetroot.

Late adolescence and early adulthood

In late adolescence, a boy’s nutritional needs become approximately what they will be for the remainder of his early adult life (i.e. until around age 50).1 In late adolescence and early adulthood, boys and men have increased needs for several vitamins and minerals – vitamins C, K, B1, B2 and B3, choline, magnesium and zinc.1 Total energy needs may increase or decrease in the transition from school to work, depending on the type of career – for example an office-based job often includes long periods of sedentary behaviour compared with the regular physical activity frequently undertaken in high school.

Vitamin C is found in lots of fruit and vegetables, but is particularly high in citrus fruits, capsicums and kiwis. Salmon is a good source of most B vitamins, including all the ones mentioned above, as is liver; beans and lentils, eggs, dairy and seeds are vegetarian sources of B1, B2 and/or B3, though in lower amounts – in fact the B vitamins are in most plant-based foods so eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains should mean an adequate intake. Foods high in choline include chicken and fish, eggs, beans, broccoli and peas. High magnesium foods include nuts, especially almonds, green leafy vegetables and whole grains; this is, however, another of those nutrients found in most foods.

The takeaway

More important than focussing in on individual macro- and micronutrients is looking at the diet as a whole – ensuring your child gets the nutrition he needs in different life stages doesn’t need to be overwhelming! By offering a rainbow of vegetables through the week, encouraging your child to eat to fullness and not restrict foods, following healthy eating guidelines, offering morning and afternoon tea as well as regular meals and encouraging him to be active in a way he enjoys, it should be easy to ensure your child gets all the nutrients he needs to grow and develop. And while food should always be used as a primary source of nutrition, there may be times in your child’s life where you may like to consider including a good quality multi nutrient supplement, such as Kids Good Stuff, in their diets to help fill any nutritional gaps. However, I always recommend that you speak to your doctor before doing so to ensure it is appropriate for your child’s individual needs.

Amy Butler

A dietitian explains what foods are good for skin health

When it comes to achieving healthy, glowing skin, the foods we put in our body might just be as important as the products we put on our skin. The skin is the largest organ in our body acting as a barrier to protect us from a range of physical threats such as chemicals and microorganisms.


When it comes to achieving healthy, glowing skin, the foods we put in our body might just be as important as the products we put on our skin.

The skin is the largest organ in our body acting as a barrier to protect us from a range of physical threats such as chemicals and microorganisms. It also helps to regulate body temperature, eliminate bodily waste and plays an important role in producing the essential nutrient, vitamin D.

There is evidence to suggest that the foods we eat help to promote various aspects of skin health – from hydration to firmness and even elasticity. Here, I share some of the best foods for promoting skin health.

Salmon, tuna, mackerel, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseeds and chia seeds.

These foods are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are important for helping the skin feel soft and hydrated, thus make a great addition to the diet if you are prone to dry or flaky skin.1 Omega-3 fats also help to reduce the inflammation associated with skin conditions such as psoriasis2 and acne3, and may also help to promote healthy ageing by protecting the skin from UV-induced skin damage (in conjunction with sunscreen application of course!).1,4

Rolled oats, basmati rice, multigrain bread, buckwheat, lentils and chickpeas

These foods are what we would describe as ‘low-glycaemic’ or low-GI foods.

Glycaemic Index (GI) rates carbohydrate containing foods based on how quickly they raise blood glucose levels. When blood glucose levels rise, a hormone called insulin is released from the pancreas, helping to transport the glucose from the blood to our cells for use as energy.

Sometimes the body will stop responding to insulin the way it should. When this happens, insulin levels become raised resulting in a condition called insulin resistance. Raised insulin levels are believed to contribute to acne development by both increasing androgen hormone production and boosting sebum production.5,6

There is research to suggest that a low GI diet may help to reduce the inflammation and number of lesions associated with acne by improving the bodies sensitivity to insulin.5,6

Avocado, citrus fruits, berries, kiwi fruit, mango, green leafy vegetables, carrot, capsicum and sweet potato

These foods are all rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that protect our skin from the damage caused by free radicals. Vitamins C, E and A, along with plant compounds such as polyphenols are all antioxidants that that have been found to be beneficial for the health of our skin.7,8

Antioxidants can help to prevent the breakdown of collagen and elastin, two fibres that are essential for supporting the structure of our skin. By doing so, they help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, thus reducing the signs of ageing.9 Vitamin C in particular can further help to reduce the signs of ageing due to its role in the synthesis of collagen.10

Research also suggests that antioxidants, much like omega-3 fats, can help to protect our skin from sun damage, thus preventing premature ageing.8

Have you ever wondered whether collagen supplements are worth the hype? Read our article by Nutritionist Danika Choy ‘Collagen Supplements: types, sources and benefits of supplementation’.

Red meat, poultry, shellfish, lentils, beans, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, almonds and cashews

These foods are all excellent sources of zinc. Zinc is an essential mineral that is important for the growth and function of skin cells.11 Research indicates that zinc has anti-inflammatory properties, thus may be beneficial for reducing the incidence and severity of skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, psoriasis and eczema.12

Yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut

These foods are great sources of probiotics. Research suggests that there is a strong link between our gut microbiome; that being the community of bacteria that live in our gut, and skin homeostasis.13 While the exact mechanisms by which the gut microbiota influences the health of our skin is not yet understood, there are numerous studies that link inflammatory skin conditions to an imbalanced gut microbiome.13 Accordingly, there is growing interest around how probiotics (which support health by increasing bacterial diversity) could be used in the prevention and treatment of common skin conditions.

At this stage, the literature suggests that probiotics may help to reduce the severity of acne by lowering inflammation and suppressing sebum production.15,16 While more research is needed for us to be able to confidently say that probiotics help to promote skin health, there is certainly no harm in consuming probiotic rich foods, making them the last addition to my list of foods for healthy, glowing skin.

Interested in learning more about the nutrients that are beneficial for skin health? Nutritionist Amy Butler shares some of the best nutrients for skin health here.

Rachel Hawkins

What is Collagen? Types, Sources and Benefits of Supplementation

What is collagen? Collagen is made of amino acids (proteins) and accounts for 30% of total protein in the human body.1 It is a fibrous, structural protein that comprises of three rope like helices, that are made up of many small fibres called macrofibrils. Macrofibrils are made up of even smaller, thinner fibres called microfibrils.


What is collagen?

Collagen is made of amino acids (proteins) and accounts for 30% of total protein in the human body.1

It is a fibrous, structural protein that comprises of three rope like helices, that are made up of many small fibres called macrofibrils. Macrofibrils are made up of even smaller, thinner fibres called microfibrils. Similar to rope, collagen has a tensile strength, that allows it to be pulled and stretched without breaking.

Why is collagen important?

Collagen is essential for joints, bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, skin, hair and nails.2

It is one of the primary structural proteins of connective tissue and plays a crucial role in the body by cushioning, strengthening, hydrating, binding, and connecting tissues together.3 Connective tissues are able to provide physical and mechanical support through the collagen, elastic and reticular fibres that it is made up of.4

Connective tissue can be classified into five different categories:

  1. Loose connective tissue. This tissue is found between our organs and works to absorb shock from movement and helps to bind tissue together.4
  2. Dense connective tissue. This tissue contains more collagen fibres than loose connective tissue, thus making it stronger and more resistant to stretching. Dense connective tissues can be classified as being regular or irregular; the fibres in regular connective tissues run parallel to each other while the fibres in irregular connective tissues run in random directions. Ligaments and tendons are an example of dense regular connective tissue. The dermis of the skin is an example of dense irregular connective tissue.4
  3. Cartilage. This tissue contains a large amount of short and dispersed collagen fibres making it strong, ridged and elastic.4
  4. Bone. Bone is the hardest connective tissue and is made up of mineralised (hardened) collagen fibres known as calcium phosphate. Bone provides protection to internal organs and supports the body.4
  5. Blood. Blood is a fluid connective tissue. It helps to transport nutrients and oxygen around the body.4

What are the different types of collagen?

There are multiple types of collagen in the human body, each of which works in unique ways to aid the body’s processes and functions.

Type I Collagen. This accounts for 90% of the collagen in the human body. It is found in the skin, bones, blood vessel walls, connective tissue, and fibrous (tough) cartilage.5 This collagen is also found in scar tissue and aids in wound healing and blood clotting.6

Amongst the many types of collagen, type I collagen is known for its anti-ageing properties. The fibrous nature of this collagen is thought to decrease wrinkles and improve skin’s health and hydration.7

Type II Collagen. This collagen is made of more loosely packed fibres and is found in the elastic cartilage, which cushions joints. Type II collagen is known for promoting joint health and can treat joint pain, such as that present in rheumatoid arthritis, quite effectively.8,9,10

In comparison to other types, type II collagen, taken orally, has been shown to live through the digestive system, more so than the other types of collagen.11 The majority of supplements that target skin health are made from a combination of type I and type III collagen.

Type III Collagen. This collagen is integral in the structure of muscles, organs, and blood vessels.12 It is known to facilitate in the synthesis of blood platelets and is vital to the process of blood clotting.12 Type III collagen is found predominantly in the muscles, thus, is the type of collagen that would be most beneficial for building muscle mass.13

Sources of type I, II and III collagens.

What type of collagen is most important in the context of skin health?

Type I is the most important in the context of skin health because it is the most abundant collagen found naturally in the body. It is the major component of connective tissues that make up several body parts, including tendons, ligaments, skin, and muscles. Furthermore, it functions to provide the skin with structure and tensile strength, meaning it can be stretched without being broken.14

What nutrients are involved in the synthesis of collagen?

Type I, II and III collagens are made up of three chains, called alpha chains, that each contain approximately 1000 amino acids resides. Of these amino acids, glycine is the most prevalent, making up one-third of these chains.15 Accordingly, it is required for the synthesis of collagen. Proline, is another other amino acid that is important for collagen production too.16,17

The table below outlines the approximate amino acid composition of type I and III collagens in humans.18 This is the type of collagen that is most abundant in the skin. Results are displayed per 1000 amino acid residues.

Amino Acid Composition of Type I and III Collagen.

These amino acids act as ‘collagen builders’ that join together to form collagen in the body. There are also a number of other nutrients that play a key role in the synthesis of collagen, and whose deficiency may impair collagen production. They include:

  • Vitamin C is needed for the body to continually manufacture collagen to maintain and repair connective tissues due to daily wear and tear.19,20 If vitamin C is not present in sufficient amounts, collagen formation is disrupted which causes problems throughout the body, such as scurvy.19,20
  • Copper activates the enzymes that help to produce collagen.21
  • Zinc is an essential trace mineral required for bone formation — largely due to its role as a cofactor for collagen synthesis.22 Some research indicate zinc slows the breakdown rate of collagen23; it has even been shown to increase the rate of wound healing.24
  • Manganese is an essential trace mineral required for the activation of prolidase, an enzyme that provides the amino acid, proline25, which is a principle component of collagen.

To learn about some of the best nutrients for healthy, glowing skin. Read our article by Nutritionist Amy Butler ‘The Best Nutrients for Skin Health’.

Can collagen be vegan?

Technically, vegan collagen can be made by using genetically modified yeast and bacteria; however, this is difficult to come by. Instead, the amino acids required to produce collagen in the body, particularly glycine and proline which are most abundant in type I and III collagens, can be acquired through the diet in order to support the synthesis of collagen in the body. By doing so, you are essentially providing the body with the building blocks needed to produce collagen naturally.

Finding vegan collagen might be hard but finding vegan protein sources that include the full suite of amino acids required to build collagen doesn’t have to be. Nuzest Clean Lean Protein contains all of the essential and non-essential amino acids required to synthesise collagen in the body. One serve provides 795mg glycine and 872mg proline. For a detailed breakdown on the amino acid composition of Clean Lean Protein, check out the product page on our website.

Does collagen supplementation help improve skin health?

Considerable amounts of research have been conducted, mainly on type I collagen, to determine the impact of collagen supplementation on skin health. Studies have identified many positive outcomes of collagen supplementation for skin including:26,27,28

  • Anti-ageing
  • Reduced wrinkles
  • Improved hydration
  • Improved elasticity
  • Improved wound healing and scar tissue formation
  • Reduction in cellulite and stretch marks

A major benefit of collagen is reducing wrinkles. Studies have shown that collagen supplementation can reduce wrinkles, improve wrinkle depth and increase skin hydration and elasticity.29

One study, women who took between 2.5 and 5 grams of collagen hydrolysate (type I) for 4-8 weeks showed significant improvements in skin elasticity and moisture with a reduced wrinkle volume of 20%.30,31

In comparison, another study of 72 women ages 35 year or older, taking 2.5 grams of hydrolysed collagen (type I and II), daily for 12 weeks reduced wrinkle depth by 27% and increased skin hydration by 28%.32 A further study showed that collagen improved skin smoothness and the appearance of wrinkles.32

Interestingly, one study also showed that women between the age of 24 and 50 who took collagen were able to significantly reduce the degree of cellulite.33,34

What other dietary and lifestyle factors need to be considered in the context of skin health?

Collagen on its own is beneficial for various skin health outcomes, however other dietary and lifestyle factors need to be considered.

Adjusting the diet can change the way skin functions. Essential fatty acid deficiency or accumulation of abnormal fatty acids results in so-called skin scaling (dry skin) and poor barrier function.35 Adding omega-3 and omega-6-rich oils to the diet has been shown to help to decrease skin roughness and dryness.36

Additionally, refined carbs and sugars have been shown to have a negative impact on skin health by disrupting the regular structure of collagen fibres and making them unable to be repaired through normal processes.36

Lifestyle factors such as exposure to sun (UV) shifts the extracellular matrix reducing the components that make up the skin collagen and elastin; 37 smoking has been shown to decrease the synthesis rates of two types I and III of collagen by 18-22%;38 and

alcohol, stress, and a lack of sleep can lead to the formation of wrinkles, appearance of brown spots and thickening of the skin.39,40

To learn more about how diet and lifestyle factors can impact the health of your skin, read our article by Nutritionist Amy Butler ‘Skin Deep: The Causes of Common Skin Concerns’.

Danika Choy

The Best Nutrients for Skin Health

Many nutrients have been long associated with outcomes of improved skin health, including all of its possible aspects from beauty to integrity and even ageing. Interestingly, benefit has been observed from both dietary nutrients (from food) and those applied topically, such as in moisturisers or skin treatments. Research suggests that the deeper layers of skin


Many nutrients have been long associated with outcomes of improved skin health, including all of its possible aspects from beauty to integrity and even ageing. Interestingly, benefit has been observed from both dietary nutrients (from food) and those applied topically, such as in moisturisers or skin treatments. Research suggests that the deeper layers of skin (the dermis) need dietary nutrients while the upper layers (the epidermis) respond better to topical treatment.1

Nutritionist Amy Butler discusses some of the best nutrients for skin health below.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A and its derivatives, including retinol, are called retinoids and are commonly found in skincare. Both the deeper and upper layers of skin contain receptors for retinoids2, meaning that vitamin A is a great nutrient to use in both dietary and topical skin nutrition. Topical retinoids have been clinically shown to improve photoaged skin by increasing smoothness and decreasing fine wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.2

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is vital for collagen synthesis and is found in both the upper and deeper layers of the skin. Ageing and exposure to UV light and pollutants, like cigarette smoke, can cause a decline in vitamin C levels in the upper layers of the skin. Vitamin C is an antioxidant; thus, it can also help to protect the skin against damage from UV light.3

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is made in the skin through exposure to sunlight. Its main function is to regulate the production of skin cells, therefore contributing to the maintenance of the skin barrier and normal wound healing.4

Vitamin E

Vitamin E actually refers to two different molecules – tocopherols and tocotrienols, both of which are found in diet in foods such as nuts and seeds. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, meaning that it too, along with Vitamin C, helps to protect the skin against damage from UV light.5

Zinc and Selenium

Minerals are many and varied, but the two most studied for skin health are zinc and selenium. Both zinc and selenium protect the skin from damage by UV rays; zinc works topically while selenium is effective both topically and in the diet.6

Polyunsaturated fats

Fats which are polyunsaturated (PUFAs), the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, have roles in keeping skin healthy. Both dietary and topical PUFAs can increase the levels of fats in the skin; topically applied PUFAs can circulate to the rest of the body and may be the more effective method of providing support to skin health.7

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant found in plant foods. Flavonoids in the diet are extensively changed through digestion, so dietary and topical flavonoids may have different effects on the skin.8 Fruits, vegetables, legumes and tea are all excellent sources of dietary flavonoids.

Peptides

Peptides are not found in the diet but are created in the body and can be applied topically. They have many functions including melanin production, suggesting a protective effect against sun damage, and collagen production indicating a potential protective or therapeutic application for wrinkling and ageing skin.9

Have you ever wondered if collagen supplements are worth the hype? We discuss whether collagen supplements work here.

Probiotics

As discussed in our article ‘Skin Deep: The Causes of Common Skin Concerns’, the gut and skin are intrinsically linked via the gut-skin axis, with many gastrointestinal disorders and dysbiosis (an imbalance in the types of bacteria found in the gut) being associated with skin problems.10 Both dietary changes and probiotic supplementation can alter gut bacteria, creating the possibility for intentional manipulation of the gut-skin axis for therapeutic purposes.10

What about water?

Keeping moisture in the skin is important for good skin health. Moisturisers and serums can be applied topically to help with this, but what about the water we drink? Surprisingly this area is little researched. Studies have found that an increase in water intake results in hydration of the deeper skin layers, but it’s not yet known whether this means that drinking more water can reduce skin dryness.12 However, considering what we know about the benefits to other areas of health of ensuring an adequate water intake, it’s certainly something to strive for regardless of its effects on the skin.

What about supplements?

Combined supplements with a variety of ingredients including collagen, vitamin C, vitamin E, biotin, zinc, grape and tomato see extracts, and marine nutrients (i.e. kelp or marine algae) have also demonstrated benefits to skin hydration, wrinkles and other measures of skin health.9, 10, 11, 12

In addition, the chemicals from deeply or brightly coloured vegetables, fruits and berries are likely to play a role in reducing cellular ageing, and therefore improve the visible signs of ageing in the skin.

Bridging the gaps in your diet with Good Green Vitality is one way to ensure you are getting the top up you need in one daily serve of many of these important skin health ingredients. Good Green Vitality also has the added benefit of nutrients that support gut health and your body’s natural detoxification pathways, that all play a critical part in your overall skin health. To learn more about the internal and external factors that cause common skin concerns, read out article by Nutritionist Amy Butler ‘Skin Deep: The Cause of Common Skin Concerns’.

Amy Butler

Skin Deep: The Causes of Common Skin Concerns

You may not think of your skin as an organ, but it is in fact, the largest organ in your body, functioning as a barrier to protect us from pathogens (microbes like viruses and bacteria), physical threats and helping to regulate body temperature. Our skin also ‘waterproofs’ the body, has receptors for heat and pain


You may not think of your skin as an organ, but it is in fact, the largest organ in your body, functioning as a barrier to protect us from pathogens (microbes like viruses and bacteria), physical threats and helping to regulate body temperature. Our skin also ‘waterproofs’ the body, has receptors for heat and pain to alert us to immediate threats, and helps us to excrete bodily wastes.

Signs your skin is not as healthy as it should be:

  • Inflamed or irritated skin
  • Excessively dry, flaky or oily skin
  • Poor wound healing
  • Premature ageing
  • Chronic conditions like eczema or dermatitis

Note: Many conditions can result in these signs and symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these, consult with your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

What causes common skin concerns?

When we think of skin health, we probably think of creams and serums, cleansers and toners, face masks and exfoliators, but the true foundations of skin health start on the inside.

The skin is one of the body’s largest organs of elimination, thus if other organs of elimination such as the liver, kidneys and bowels are compromised, a skin outbreak may ensue as the result of the body attempting to excrete wastes via an alternate route.

Other systems of the body, including the gastrointestinal system, also impact the health of our skin. The relationship between these two organs is often referred to as the gut-skin axis, with numerous studies having linked the health of the gastrointestinal system to the health of our skin. For example, it is believed that gastrointestinal disturbances, such as constipation, may play a role in skin problems due to the increased amount of toxins circulating in the body.1 Accordingly, a large part of managing skin conditions is to restore the body to a state of internal harmony.

Outside of internal systemic function, skin health also reflects many things, such as genetics, diet, stress, environmental and occupational exposure, medical conditions, medications and certain lifestyle choices. We discuss some of these below.

Stress

It has long been known that stress causes an increase in symptoms of skin problems, affecting skin immune function, barrier function and wound healing.2 Stress is not the only mental state to affect the skin; it is proposed that anxiety and depression are associated with acne via changes in gut bacteria.3 

Sleep

One of the things that happens while we sleep is repair and renewal of our cells, including skin cells.4 Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality can negatively impact the skin, and is associated with skin ageing, self-perception of skin and facial appearance (or, how we think we look), and skin barrier function.4

Smoking

Stopping smoking is one of the most beneficial ways to improve your health almost instantly, and skin health is no different. As well as a negative impact on the look of skin, with fine lines around the eyes and mouth, greying skin and gauntness being a ‘characteristic look’ of a smoker, smoking has been indicated as a factor in skin diseases such as carcinomas and melanomas, psoriasis, eczema and acne.5

Sun Exposure

Although we need a little sunlight in order for our skin to make vitamin D, too much has a harmful effect on the look and health of our skin. It is well known that excess sun can cause skin cancers as a result of damage to the DNA in the skin cell.6 UV light also contributes to ageing of the skin, increasing wrinkling, sagging and dryness.7 A good quality sunscreen which protects for both UVA and UVB is important to wear daily for skin protection, as well as staying inside, in the shade or wearing a hat during the hottest parts of the day when the sun is strongest.

Diet

Nutrition has been long associated with skin health, including all of its possible aspects from beauty to integrity and even ageing. Nutritional deficiencies or excesses have been shown to impact and promote the onset and recurrence of various dermatological disorders.8 For example, nutritional imbalances and the ingestion of high-glycaemic-index foods are two factors commonly associated with acne.

In addition, the excessive consumption of sugar and charred meats are thought to promote the visible signs of ageing by promoting the formation of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) – compounds that form when protein or fat combine with sugar in the blood stream. AGEs are believed to decrease the body’s resistance to structural stress and interrupt the skin’s blood supply, thus having a negative impact on the health of the skin.

Conversely, a diet that is calorically balanced and full of essential nutrients such as probiotics, antioxidants, polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals and vitamins, have been scientifically proven to help promote healthy skin, optimise skin physiology, maintain skin density, improve skin firmness and prevent some skin diseases.8

To learn more about the nutrients that are beneficial for skin health, read our article by Nutritionist Amy Butler ‘The Best Nutrients for Skin Health’.

Amy Butler