Plant-based eating has exploded in popularity in recent years—but is it for everyone?
What is a vegan diet?
Put simply, a vegan diet is one which excludes all animal products. People who eat a vegan diet can consume:
- Nuts and seeds
- Pulses and legumes
- Other plant-based products, such as coconut yoghurt and vegan cheese
But vegans avoid the following:
Technically, a vegan doesn’t use any animal products either. This means they wouldn’t wear leather shoes, or use cosmetics with animal-derived ingredients (such as shellac).
With that in mind, it’s probably more accurate to say that there’s been a recent explosion in plant-based eating, rather than true veganism. Last year, the demand for vegan food spiked by 140% .
What’s good about a plant-based diet?
While there’s lots of research looking into the benefits of vegetarianism (in which people avoid meat, but still eat eggs and dairy), there’s actually not much high-quality research investigating the benefits of 100% plant-based eating.
Here’s what we know from the few studies available:
- Plant-based eaters have a lower average BMI. In other words, they tend to weigh less . There’s a suggestion that this is because plant-based diets cause people to burn more calories after eating, though this theory needs to be further substantiated .
- Plant-based eating protects against high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes and death from heart disease . Interestingly, this effect is more pronounced in men. It’s worth mentioning that these results relate to the study of Adventists in the USA—people who generally lead modest lives, and who don’t drink or smoke.
- Plant-based eaters have a lower risk of cancer. A meta-analysis (a study of studies) found that plant-based eaters had a 15% reduced risk of developing cancer .
There are lots of ways to eat a plant-based diet, and it’s still possible to eat a lot of ‘junk’ food. Chips and coca cola, for example, are vegan foods!
However, if a plant-based eater does indeed eat more plants, these confer benefits too:
- High intake of antioxidants and polyphenols. Fruits and vegetables are brimming with these powerful compounds, which help to fight inflammation in the body . Polyphenols can also encourage the growth of good bacteria in the large intestine.
- Higher fibre intake. Plant foods are generally rich in fibre, which performs lots of functions in the body, including fighting leaky gut . Of course, some people with dysbiosis may benefit from eating less fibre for a while.
What are the drawbacks of a plant-based diet?
It’s possible to eat well on a plant-based diet, but it requires a little more planning. Without proper attention, a plant-based eater could find that they’re not getting enough of the following macro and micronutrients:
- Protein. Plant foods simply aren’t as high in protein as animal-based foods. If you aren’t getting enough protein, it will impact virtually every bodily process, including immune and muscle function.
- Vitamin B12. This vitamin is not found in plant-based foods. The only reliable sources for plant-based eaters are foods that have been fortified and supplements. A deficiency of vitamin B12 can result in a higher level of inflammatory homocysteine, and even lead to nerve damage .
- Iron. There’s iron in plant foods, such as spinach and sesame seeds, but it’s in the non-heme form, which is less bioavailable (usable) to the body. A lack of iron can lead to anaemia and fatigue.
- Calcium. The mineral is bound to oxalates in plant foods, which means it’s difficult for the body to use it. We need calcium not only for our bones, but also for our hormonal function and nerve transmission.
- Omega 3 fats. Oily fish is the best source of the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Plant-based eaters can consume omega 3 fats in the form of walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds, but their body still needs to convert it into EPA and DHA.
- Iodine. One study showed that up to 80% of vegans are deficient in iodine . The mineral is essential for thyroid function.
In addition to not eating enough of the right nutrients, plant-based eaters can also find themselves eating too many anti-nutrients. These substances—such as lectins, phytic acid and protease inhibitors—are found in seeds, grains and legumes.
They are the plants’ way of protecting themselves, kind of like their own immune system. However, when we eat them, they can prevent other nutrients from being absorbed, further contributing to deficiencies. This substances can be particularly problematic in people who suffer from an autoimmune disease.
Is a plant-based diet right for everyone?
Some people feel they thrive on a plant-based diet, while others seem to struggle. Genetic testing can go some way to explaining why. We are all different in a number of ways, such as:
Our ability to convert vitamin A. Plant foods don’t contain true vitamin A (known as retinol) but a pre-cursor to vitamin A, called beta-carotene. If everything is working well, the body can convert beta-carotene into retinol—which essential for eyesight, growth and fertility.
However, we now know that some people have a genetic SNPs that means their conversion is reduced by 69%, or even up to 90% .
What this means is that if a poor converter decided to eat a plant-based diet, they could come to find themselves suffering from symptoms of inadequate vitamin A: night blindness, poor immunity and thyroid problems.
Differences in our gut microbiomes. The mass of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that live in our gut plays a huge role in how we respond to certain foods. One example of this is vitamin K2. This vitamin is present in animal products, but a healthy microbiome can also make it .
However, not everyone has a healthy microbiome. If a person with minimal vitamin K2-producing bacteria switched to a plant-based diet, they may find themselves running low on this crucial vitamin. This can show up as nasty dental problems, and even bone fractures.
Our carbohydrate tolerance. There’s a gene called AMY1, which codes for amylase—an enzyme that breaks down starch. Generally speaking, people from cultures with a more starch-heavy traditional diet (such as Japan) will have more copies of this gene (and thus more amylase), while those from a culture with a fat and protein-heavy traditional diet will have less .
A plant-based diet is naturally higher in starchy carbohydrates. If a person with low levels of amylase starts to eat a starch-heavy, plant-based diet, they may find themselves at greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome and obesity .
Of course, not everyone is going to know which of these applies to them, unless they undertake genetic testing or microbiome profiling.
Should you eat a plant-based diet?
There are moral and even political considerations of a vegan diet, which are too complex to go into here. From a purely nutritional standpoint, it’s fair to say that a plant-based diet might not be right for everyone, all the time.
However, our relationship with food is multi-faceted, and everyone’s diet is personal to them. Instead of focusing on labels, every individual should pay attention to which foods make them feel healthy and well—and which don’t. For some, that will include animal products, and for others it won’t.
Even if you don’t eat an entirely plant-based diet, you can still benefit from eating more plants. Load your plate with colourful fruits and vegetables, try different nuts and seeds, and include pulses if you tolerate them. You could even enjoy vegan dessert.
A healthy diet begins with fresh, whole, unprocessed foods—whether you identify with being plant-based or not.
The sebaceous gland - located in the dermis - is responsible for producing an oily substance called sebum. Sebum provides lubrication to the skin and helps to make it waterproof. In some people, the sebaceous glands can produce too much oil which leads oily skin. The most common condition caused by excessive sebum production is acne. The key the successful treatment of oily skin is to identify and address the following underlying causes:
- Genetic factors - a positive family history is often a good indicator.
- Imbalance of the skin’s and the gut’s microbiome (the gut-skin axis).
- Systemic inflammation.
- Insulin resistance - exacerbates oily and acne prone skin by increasing the proliferation of keratinocytes and it also stimulates the synthesis of androgens.
- High androgens - testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT, the more metabolically active form of testosterone) cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum in the skin.
- Changes in female hormone levels - before menstruation, oestrogen and progesterone levels fall and result in proportionally higher levels of testosterone.
- Stress and other environmental factors.
The best vitamins to consider when treating oily, acne prone skin:
Vitamin A is by far the most researched vitamin in relation to oily and acne prone skin. Vitamin A is well known for its role in supporting barrier function, it also heals the skin and modulates sebum production. Consuming dietary beta carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, may be the most optimal option to achieve good levels of Vitamin A in the body.
Vitamin E stimulates skin regeneration and has anti-inflammatory properties, making it a promising tool in the treatment of oily, acne prone skin.
Vitamin C has also been shown to improve oily skin due to its anti-inflammatory properties.Vitamin C may help to reduce redness and swelling and is good for accelerating the healing process of the skin.
Vitamin B3 and B5 regulate the amount of oil the sebaceous glands produce and prevent them from going overdrive (9).
What vitamins are good for hair, nails and skin?
The skin, together with hair and nails, forms the integumentary system, a major protective barrier which guards us from chemicals, pathogens and other elements of our environment. Both hair and nails develop from the epidermis and are composed of (dead stratified squamous) epithelium cells which are rich in protein, especially keratin. Strong nails and glossy hair are considered great signs of health and vitality. From a naturopathic point of view, brittle nails and dry, lifeless hair can be a good indicator that some of the key vitamins and minerals are deficient.
The best vitamins for skin, hair and nails and their mechanisms discussed below:
Vitamin C and Vitamin E may be useful in supporting the integumentary system. There is growing evidence to suggest that oxidative stress is a pivotal mechanism behind hair graying and hair loss (10) thus ensuring these nutrients are adequate should be part of your intervention.
Biotin is one of the B vitamins and has many vital roles relating to the health of skin, hair and nails (11). It helps to protect your skin from water loss and regulates fatty acid metabolism and it has been shown to promote hair growth, particularly in people who are deficient (12). Brittle nails, scaly scalp, hair loss and dandruff can be signs of biotin deficiency.
Vitamin B12 and iron are essential for the production of red blood cells and haemoglobin and deficiency of these nutrients have been implicated in hair loss (13).
Nutrients that are essential in providing the building blocks for hair and nail growth: zinc, iron, copper, selenium, silicon, calcium and magnesium, silica. Proteins are also crucial for the health and vitality of our skin, hair and nails, especially the amino acids methionine, lysine, cysteine, glycine and proline.
What vitamins are good for skin elasticity?
Skin elasticity is the skin’s ability to return to its original shape after stretching. Your skin gets its stretchiness and resilience from two important proteins, collagen and elastin. The loss of elasticity, called elastosis, is a natural part of the ageing process which starts to appear in our 30s or in your 40s - if you’re one of the lucky ones (14). This ageing process is a result of both intrinsic (as with all internal organs) and extrinsic factors (sun exposure, stress, poor nutrition, high alcohol intake, smoking and air pollution) (15). Hormonal changes are also key factors, particularly the natural decline in oestrogen (16) and testosterone (17) production.
Here are the best vitamins essential for skin elasticity:
Vitamin A (retinol) is converted to retinoic acid in the skin and it has been shown to modulate gene expression and influence cellular processes in both the epidermis and dermis, thereby exerting potent anti-ageing effects on our skin. Vitamin A has a key role in the prevention and treatment of UV-induced skin damage (18), making it the most important vitamin in the prevention of wrinkles and loss of elasticity.
Vitamin C is vital for the formation of collagen and elastin. This great but humble vitamin is also a powerful antioxidant, which means that it can trap free radicals that contribute to many processes of ageing, including loss of elasticity of the skin.
Vitamin E is another skin-friendly antioxidant and has been extensively investigated for its role in UV damage protection (19). Vitamin E appears to improve skin elasticity and vitality.
B vitamins – contribute to the production of collagen in the human body. Studies have shown that deficiency of Vitamin B2 & B6 is directly correlated with low collagen content of the skin so including a good B complex may be beneficial.
Get in touch and find out more about our Skin and beauty IV therapy, available here at our clinic in London.
What vitamins are good for skin with eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, characterised by red, dry and itchy patches. It’s commonly found on the skin of our neck, hands, feet, elbows and the back of the legs. Atopic eczema (atopic means ‘with a genetic predisposition’) is the most common form affecting 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults in the UK (20).
Usually, healthy skin cells are tightly packed together creating a good natural barrier for immune defence. When you have eczema this barrier function is impaired and the skin’s delicate balance of beneficial bacteria is disrupted. This disruption allows toxins and pathogens to enter the skin (a process similar to leaky gut), which leads to an immune response and ultimately to an inflamed, irritated skin.
The best vitamins and nutrients for the management of eczema:
Vitamin D has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of eczema through its immune-regulatory, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities in the skin. Vitamin D deficiency is very common in eczema (21) and supplementation of at least 1000IU daily has been shown to reduce symptoms. Your practitioner will be able to assess your vitamin D levels through a simple finger prick test.
Vitamin A - the great ‘skin-vitamin’ - strengthens the skin’s protective layer and supports healing (22) and has been implicated in the treatment of eczema.
Vitamin E accumulates in the mitochondria within skin cells and promotes collagen and fibroblast synthesis. In a recent study, 400iu of vitamin E significantly improved the severity of eczema symptoms, including itching (23).
Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties, it’s a natural antihistamine and due to its effect on collagen production it’s a really useful vitamin for the treatment of eczema. Vitamin C might also help alleviate redness, itchiness and long-term damage to the skin.
Eczema is a multifactorial condition and its development often starts as early as birth so it’s important to approach it with a holistic, in-depth and comprehensive support. Read more about our expert practitioners who can offer more personalised support and advice.
Which is the best vitamin for skin complexion and makes your skin glow?
I’m sure we’ve all met someone who has a beautiful, blemish-free skin with an inner glow and luminance to it. Great skin is a true reflection of our inner wellbeing and you can achieve it by having good nutrition and looking after your physical and mental health.
The best vitamins for a healthy glow and great complexion:
Vitamin C, as mentioned above, is a powerful antioxidant that stimulates collagen production (24) making it your number one ticket to a luminescent skin. When applied topically Vitamin C has been shown to brighten the skin by reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation.
Vitamin A again. Vitamin A has the ability to even skin tone and to give your skin a beautiful, healthy glow.
Biotin, helps to protect your skin from water loss and regulates fatty acid metabolism, giving your skin a healthy complexion.
Vitamin B3 is known to increase keratin, a protein that keeps your skin firm and healthy.
IV- nutrient therapy with glutathione can give your skin a natural ‘refreshed’ glow and may even reduce pigmentation and redness of the skin.
Do Multivitamins help skin?
A well-balanced multivitamin that contains the key nutrients discussed above can be a great tool to support your skin health and your overall wellbeing. Choose a carefully formulated complex that is effective, pure, ethical and contains therapeutic doses of vitamins and minerals in their most bioavailable and easily absorbed from. Look for Vitamin D3 vs D2, methylfolate vs folic acid, iron citrate vs iron sulphate and so on. For the best skin support, choose a good multi that contains the most important nutrients: vitamins A, C, D, E, B complex, zinc, iron, selenium and chromium. Any plant derived antioxidants like green tea, rosehip, blueberry, turmeric is a bonus!
Have you tried IV nutrient therapy before? Here, at the London Clinic of Nutrition, we offer a range of conventional and bespoke infusions to revitalise our clients’ health and help them reverse chronic disease. Find out more here.
Dietary and lifestyle considerations for a healthy and glowing skin
- If your skin complaints continue to persist, consider eliminating allergens such as wheat, dairy and eggs.
- Include probiotic rich foods such as kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented tofu and kefir to support the skin’s (and gut) microbiome.
- Take a good quality and pure omega 3 supplement to support skin hydration and regulate inflammatory response of the skin (26).
- Consider supplementing with marine collagen, a natural source of type 1 collagen that is easily absorbed.
- Support methylation and detoxification with vitamins and minerals like methylfolate, methylcobalamine, vitamin B6, zinc and copper.
- Consume organic produce wherever possible.
- Although sun exposure is vital for vitamin D production and our circadian rhythm, a sensible approach is recommended to avoid sun damage.
- Protect your skin from damage with antioxidants. Eat plenty of vegetables and (some) fruits of rainbow of colours. Particularly green and orange ones for their carotenoid and polyphenol content.
- Include protein rich foods - protein supports the growth and maintenance of collagen and elastin fibres. Amino acids proline and lysine work together with vitamin C to enhance the formation of collagen.
- Choose more natural household products to minimise exposure to environmental toxins.
- Manage stress through mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Improve sleep hygiene by reducing blue light in the evenings.
Consult one of our expert team members to discuss functional tests to assess gut issues, liver function, hormonal irregularities and genetic predisposition for vitamin inefficiencies (for example MTHFR and VDR).
Call us today on 020 3332 0030 and a member of the team will be available to answer any queries you have.
FREE 15 MINUTE CONSULTATION
GET OUR NEWSLETTER
Receive FREE Health tips, Recipes and More
The London Clinic of Nutrition is a multi-disciplined health practice offering personalised nutritional medicine and naturopathy using the functional medicine approach.
100 Seymour Place
020 3332 0030