When founding Oxygen, we wanted to educate and inspire young adults to cherish and nourish their true potential, but in doing this we recognised the impact that problematic skin conditions had on self-esteem and confidence in not only teenagers but all ages. We know problem skin is isn't just a one size fits all approach, which is why we sat down last month to chat with Sara Widdowson, Dietician, Women's Health Expert and founder of Your Monthly. We wanted to chat to her about hormones, post pill acne, our wellbeing and the impact nutrition has on skin health.
What are your top three nutrition tips for clear, glowing skin?
Hydration – a simple but effective strategy for skin health! If you need to improve your water intake consider herbal teas on those cold winter mornings or get into a habit of keeping a water glass on your desk which visually prompts you to get up and hydrate every few hours or so. This is especially important if you work in an air-conditioned office which is very dehydrating. Another easy tip is if you take any supplements or medications replace the sip of water you need to swallow capsules with standing there and finishing a whole glass.
Omega-3 fatty acids – omega-3 fatty acid containing foods such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado help your skin to produce its protective oil barrier which aims to prevent infections under the skin surface which present as breakouts. You can of course take a supplement but if you include a food source of omega-3 each day you likely don’t need to! Dress salads with olive oil, add avocado to your morning smoothie and aim to include salmon as an evening protein source a couple of times per week.
Pre-biotics including vegetables, fruit, legumes and pulses – pre-biotics are the food source required to have healthy gut bacteria. While the science is very much still juvenile, we know that there is a link between gut health and many other body systems such as immunity and skin health. Make sure you are aiming for at least 5 serves of vegetables (a serve is a handful) per day and you can experiment with adding more legumes and pulses to your diet too. Easy ideas are hummus paired with your afternoon tea crackers, use black beans as an addition to your work day salads and you can replace mince in many dishes with canned lentils!
I’m coming off the pill after 10 years, what can I do to help my cycle to return?
Number one is to be patient with the process. It can take 3-6 months for your period to return after coming off the oral contraceptive pill as your ovulation cycle starts up again.
Eating enough in terms of both calories and carbohydrates is also important for ovulation and your cycle returning. Avoid fad diets, fasting and keto diets which can disrupt your cycle returning. Its simple really, your body will downregulate ovulation if it perceives there to be insufficient nutrition out there in the world to sustain new life so we need to make sure your body knows it is safe and well nourished! I also recommend that women track their cycle as it returns as for many, they have not had a true period for several years (some of my clients have been on the pill for more than 10 years). You may need to learn about what your monthly is really like – for example what is the level of discomfort your get during bleed days, how heavy are your periods, do you experience PMS and what is your average length of cycle?
I have post pill acne going on a year and a half, are there any supplements you would suggest?
Zinc works wonders for skin healing! I would recommend 25-50mg for a 6-month course and remember to take Zinc with food as it can cause nausea for some. Omega-3 supplementation would also likely be helpful and the research shows a dose from 600-1000mg can be useful. I would start with a lower dose as omega-3 supplementation can cause loose bowel motions!
What would be your perfect recipe for a ‘skin smoothie’ (full of lots of skin loving goodness)?
When building a smoothie, it is important to include protein and healthy fats along side any fruit choices. Protein and fat help to slow down glucose release from carbohydrates such as fruits and insulin is the hormone that follows glucose (and insulin can cause acne for many women). I recommend that clients add some of the following options to their smoothie:
- Chia or flaxseeds
- Nut butter
- Protein powder (the less ingredients the better)
- Flaxseed oil (hit of omega-3 fatty acids and tasteless)
- Frozen courgette (makes smoothies creamy!)
What can we do to encourage ‘good’ hormones!Ovulation is how females make Progesterone, who is very much a “good” guy when it comes to hormonal health. The only way to tell if you are ovulating is by blood tests or temperature tracking but experiencing a regular, pain free period is also a good indication (note you can still get a period without ovulating). Anovulatory cycles (a cycle where ovulation did not occur) can occur for many reasons such as in teenage or peri-menopause years, if you have a condition such as PCOS or if women are undernourished (restricting calorie or carbohydrate intake). Manging stress levels and making sure you are fuelling your body are both great foundations for healthy hormones!
I’m 23 and looking at coming off my pill to give my body a break, where do you suggest I start?Firstly, I would be thinking about whether or not you need to investigate alternative contraception options if you are currently taking the pill for contraceptive reasons. I would then get schooled up on the concept of a low-glycaemic index pattern of eating to help reduce the likelihood of post pill acne which can happen to many women. Starting a Zinc supplement would also be useful and even more so if you are plant based or vegetarian as you will have limited intake of Zinc containing foods.
What is your favourite thing to do to de-stress?It sounds cliché but moving my body is an active form of meditation for me. I start every day with a walk with my four-legged side-kick and running is my other great passion. I think it is important to move without additional stresses such as load music, podcasts that make me think I need to be more productive or even a running watch that is pushing me to run harder. When I go for walks or a run without music or a sport watch I call them “naked runs” – just me and my mind out for a jog.
Everyone has a soft spot, what’s your go-to sweet or savoury meal you’ll forever love?I am seriously addicted to peanut butter so that goes on anything and everything (I am talking on hot cross buns, fruit toast, apples, in my porridge. It’s a daily addition!). My love for a good date scone also runs deep and for me it is the definition of joyful food!
As you can tell, Sara is a wealth of knowledge and we are so fortunate to have had her join us for 'Hormone School' over the last month! If you've enjoyed this but would like some more advice tailored to you, Sara runs personal consultations from Christchurch or virtually, so you can dive deeper into your hormones and nutrition for maximum benefits. A few of our team have had a joy of being a client of Sara and found it so beneficial. You can find out more about the Your Monthly Club here or follow along on Instagram at @yourmonthly.
Until next time,
Love, Oxygen x