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Why skin can be "the Mirror" of teen health.

Lets face it, nutrition is not typically a priority in the mind of most teenagers. But, because of the onslaught of higher levels of hormones and the stress of a growing body, high quality nutrition is absolutely essential. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on whole unprocessed foods, many teenagers are consummate junk-food junkies, filling up on fast foods, chips, soft drinks, pizza, popcorn, candy bars, and other processed foods. To highlight the importance of nutrition during the teenage years let's take a look at nutrition's role in perhaps the most embarrassing sign of hormonal stress--ache.

Acne--a sign of hormonal stress
Acne is most common during puberty due to the fact that male sex hormones, such as testosterone, stimulate the production of keratin and sebum, fibrous proteins that can block skin pores. Higher testosterone levels increase the likelihood that pores will become blocked by either excessive keratin or too much sebum. This leads to the formation of pimples and blackheads. While boys are at greater risk for ache, there is also an increase in testosterone levels in girls during puberty. The severity and progression of acne is determined by a complex interaction among hormonal factors, keratin-producing cells, sebum, bacteria, and, of course, nutrition.

Nutritional supplements to support the teenager
The best way to address the complex challenges of puberty and adolescence is through a broad-spectrum, multiple vitamin and mineral formula. Here are just a few of the nutrients in such a formula that play a role in healthy skin: zinc, vitamin A, chromium, and vitamin B6.

Zinc
Zinc is required for the proper handling of hormones. Low levels of zinc play a central role in many cases of adolescent ache, as zinc levels are lower in 13- and 14-year-old males than in any other age group. In the treatment of acne, zinc supplementation has produced excellent results in some studies and virtually no effect in others. Typical dosage of zinc are 30 to 45 mg daily.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is absolutely critical for healthy skin. My feeling is that using high dosages of vitamin A is not necessary if other nutritional factors, such as zinc and vitamin E, are included. These nutrients work with vitamin A in promoting healthy skin. A safe and effective recommendation for vitamin A in the treatment of acne is less than 25,000 IU per day. However, sexually active women of childbearing age should not take more than 5,000 IU of vitamin A per day unless an effective form of birth control is being used as high levels of vitamin A can cause birth defects.

Chromium
Several studies have shown that injections of the hormone insulin are effective in the treatment of acne. Chromium is known to improve glucose tolerance and enhance the sensitivity of the skin cells to insulin, in addition to enhancing the body's ability to break down excess sugar. Chromium is generally recommended at a dosage of 200 to 400 mcg daily.

Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is required to breakdown hormones in the liver. In teenagers, low levels of vitamin B6 can contribute to not only acne, but also mood swings and sugar cravings. Vitamin B6 has been shown to be helpful as a treatment of acne flare-ups during the premenstrual period. Typical dosages are 25-100 mg daily.

Vitamin E and Selenium
Vitamin E and selenium function together in several antioxidant mechanisms. Selenium functions in the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. This enzyme works along with vitamin E in preventing the inflammation of acne. Typically, acne patients have significantly decreased levels of glutathione peroxidase. Clinical studies indicate that after treatment with vitamin E and selenium, the level of this enzyme increases and the acne is significantly improved. Typical dosage for vitamin E is 100-400 IU and for selenium 100-400 mcg.

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By Michael T. Murray

Michael T. Murray, N.D., is widely regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on natural medicine. Dr. Murray is a noted writer, educator, and lecturer. He is currently the editor of the Natural Medicine Journal.

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