I had a tip off about this programme and decided to view it at my convenience on i-player. It was presented by Dr. Rozina Ali, a glamorous-looking plastic surgeon, who began by informing us that the skin is not only the largest organ in our body at 20 square feet, but also the only one that is visible. Via the appearance of our skin, people can judge us and our health status, as well as get an idea of how old we might be – the older we are, the more wrinkled in general our skin is.
Apparently, we are in a constant battle with the sun. Not that we seem to have seen much of that in the UK this summer, apart from in the last few days. The best people to study with regard to sun damage and ageing of the skin are lorry drivers, who are more wrinkled on one side of their face than the other as a result of UVA light getting into the cab through the window glass, and degrading the collagen in the skin. The conclusion she drew from this is that we should be wearing sunblock if driving.
Back to UVA light, which not only penetrates glass, but also water. We are whisked off to the Red Sea, to discover the secrets of coral reefs and why they do not get sun damage. Coral reefs are part plant, part animal, and they need to be near enough to the water surface for the plant part to photosynthesise, but not so that the animal part of the reef gets sun damage. The plant part of the coral evidently produces MAAs – microsporum-like amino acids which they pass to the animal part to protect them both. MAAs, we are told, are also present in the lens of squid, which filter out UVA and UVB light. Additionally, it is mentioned that MAAs are absorbed by skin cells, so, unlike sunscreen, they don’t rub off. The race is now on to put MAAs in a pill, which is expected to be available within the next 5 years. However these will of course be synthetic MAAs, so it remains to be seen whether they have the some beneficial effects or if they would be harmful. My suspicion is the latter…
We now move on to a discussion of oxygen, and a somewhat surprising statement to hear from a doctor – “we breathe it in every day, but it is highly toxic.” Just run that one by me again would you, doctor? Oxygen is toxic? I have to disagree. Oxygen is vital, easily demonstrated by the fact that humans don’t live longer than 4 minutes without it before irreversibly damaging the brain. If we deprive our cells of decent levels of oxygen for more than 36 hours, they start to become cancerous. This is not an indication of a toxic molecule. But wait! She is talking about “toxic oxygen radicals” or, as they are better known, free radicals. At last! The program is moving in a sensible direction, talking about the absolute vital importance of antioxidants to fight the ageing process. During metabolism, 2% of our cellular oxygen becomes free radicals, which then go on to attack DNA. The damage is cumulative and our defence mechanism is blamed for being “not efficient enough” by Dr. Ali. We jump to Professor Casey at the Unilever science lab, who introduces us to our fibroblasts, the cells in the dermis that make collagen. In older skin, the connections between the fibroblasts and collagen break down. It is this that causes the appearance of wrinkles.
We are then asked the rhetorical questions “is it possible to reverse ageing?” and “can we repair skin?”, rapidly followed by “part of the answer seems to lie with what we eat.” Part of the answer, Dr. Ali? Only part? Surely the vast majority, with the other things you’re talking about paleing into insignificance with this subject that you devote very little time to in the documentary. There are, we are told, only 4 rules of food.
- Look for bright colours (she relates that the lycopene in tomatoes prevents oxidative stress)
- Eat bitter tasting vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower
- Eat lots of oily fish for omega-3 oils (remember these are her words, not mine!)
- Avoid “starch” – the examples she gives are rice, potatoes and pasta.
Come now Dr. Ali; I know you trained in medical school where they don’t teach you nutrition, but surely you could come up with a better list than just these 4? I can vastly elaborate on this, and explain in my CD/MP3 “Oxidative Stress and the Link between Diet and Health” what you really need to do to slash these toxic oxygen radicals.
We were then shown scenes of her buying all this produce in the market, and cooking it all. Now there’s a GREAT way to destroy all the important antioxidants that might have been present in the produce when it was bought! We are told that to get enough antioxidants from broccoli we would have to eat half a kilo of it. But this is absolutely not so if the broccoli seeds are sprouted and you eat those. They are 30 times as potent. Don’t know how to sprout them? Come to one of my sprouting/superfoods classes and I’ll show you! Dr. Ali was also trying to stress that we don’t get enough antioxidants from our diet by saying that “5 a day” of fruit falls short. But there is a diet that combats oxidative stress isn’t there? It’s a low GI raw vegan diet. Does it improve your skin? You bet!
Back to Unilever, who are working on “getting the benefits of the above factors into a pill” (note – Unilever are a pharmaceutical company). That should get people excited shouldn’t it? The fact is though, a pill better than this has been available for the last 20 years. I have been using it for the last 17 years, and fortunately it doesn’t contain the toxic fish oil that they were raving about. Just all the fruit and veg that give us the protection we need against oxidative stress, with 24 published studies indicating that it works, including those that demonstrate an increase in blood antioxidant status and reduction of free radicals by 75% on average, and if this weren’t enough, another that shows improvements in skin quality, circulation and thickness. Want more info? Click here!
Back to the programme, and finally someone talking some sense. A warm welcome to Dr. David Gunn, from the Dutch arm of Unilever, who has studied the appearance of people’s skin in relation to their blood sugar levels. We know that sugar causes skin wrinkling by damaging collagen and causing protein cross-linking. Diabetics have the oldest looking skin, and those with tightly controlled blood sugar the youngest. In Berlin, this “new” science is called glycobiology, and it’s all the rage at the Max Planck Institute, where glycans are being scrutinised. Dr Peter Seeberger takes over to tell us how glycans allow cell to cell communication and are present on the surface of cells. These glycans, we are told, look different in young skin cells as compared with old.
Finally, Dr. Bruno Bernard, from l’Oreal in Paris, is very excited to present a new cream that can switch glycans back on, so that the messages that we should make more collagen begin to get through again. L’Oreal says that the cream increases glycans, eliminates sagging collagen and pushes out wrinkles. Initial small-scale trials indicated a visible difference in 1 month. No doubt women all over the world will be queueing up for this, but hold on – cosmetic creams are very well known to contain so many toxic synthetic ingredients that the cons will probably far outweigh the pros.
In all, I found this documentary disappointing, and somewhat frustrating. Fortunately, they managed to stay well away from making ridiculous statements such as botox is anti-ageing, but they definitely did not focus on all the anti-ageing possibilities that we have known about for years. Since they were only looking at skin in regard to ageing, why was avoiding smoking never mentioned? It is the one thing that massively ages the skin that is totally optional and within our control. Why were the toxic effects of sunscreen not mentioned? Or the importance of vitamin D to our health, necessitating some sun exposure? Why was so little time devoted to antioxidants? Why were caloric restriction and fasting, the two things that make the biggest difference to the rate of ageing that have ever been studied, not given airtime? Why was rest and stress reduction not mentioned, or avoidance of pollution? I know that would have been a lot to fit into an hour, but it might have been a better use of time than focusing on what l’Oreal may or may not put into a cream in the distant future. What are your thoughts?