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The Beauty Supplement Aisle

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Regardless of how good your diet is, the right supplement regime can go a long way toward helping you feel—and look your best. While there is no magic pill to make all of us look ten years younger, there are absolutely supplements that carry a glow factor.

Functional medicine physician Robin Berzin, M.D. is adept at assessing which nutrients her patients need for overall health, including some that she says noticeably boost the health of skin and hair. She’s the founder of the holistic, data-focused medicine practice Parsley Health, (which now has offices in NYC and LA, and operates on a membership basis). As Dr. Berzin explains below, Parsley Health subscribes to the school of thought that how you look and feel is tied as much, if not more, to what you put into your body as it is to what you slather on top of it. Here, her guide to beauty-forward supplements, including an update on collagen, biotin, and adaptogens:

A Q&A with Dr. Robin Berzin

Q

Excluding beauty, what are baseline supplements women should be taking to be as healthy as possible?

A

I recommend most of our patients take a B vitamin with methylated folic acid and B12 to support liver detoxification and energy balance.

We call magnesium glycinate (400 mg daily) nature’s anti-depressant. It naturally calms the nervous system, aids sleep, and relaxes tight muscles. Most of our patients have never heard of it and after we prescribe it they describe it as life-changing.

I like to prescribe fish oil for omega-3 fatty acids. I also recommend an antioxidant blend that includes ingredients like ECGC (a green tea extract), NAC (n-acetyl cysteine), and S-Acetyl-glutathione.

Beyond basic well-being, which supplements do you recommend specifically for healthy hair, and which for healthy skin?

Having healthy hair and skin is as much (sometimes more) about what you’re putting into your body than what you’re putting on your body.

For healthy hair, I recommend taking supplements of biotin, zinc, silicon, iron, essential fatty acids, folic acid, B6, B12, essential amino acids like leucine, and vitamin A. (For vitamin A, take up to 10,000 IU daily—you don’t want to overdose on vitamin A, but it is very, very rare. 100,000 units of vitamin A or more daily for a long time can be toxic, but most supplements only have 2,500 units, only 50 percent of which is bioavailable.)

For healthy and glowing skin, you want to be using flaxseed oil or sunflower oil (both great sources of essential fatty acids), vitamin E, vitamin A (oral or topical up to 10,000 IU), vitamin C (oral or topical), pancreatic enzymes for proper absorption of nutrients (sometimes called digestive enzymes; you can find them in most health food stores, and they are in Parsley’s 7-day detox), and lycopene, which is an antioxidant found in tomatoes.

For both hair and skin: Grass-fed collagen peptides. [More on this below.]

Q

Do you generally prefer single-vitamin supplements or blends?

A

It always depends on what a patient needs. That’s where what we do is different: At Parsley Health we almost always prescribe food before pills. Good nutrition can solve so many problems faster than medication ever will, which is why we put such an emphasis on personalized testing and health coaching. Our doctors tailor our recommendations based on cutting edge medical testing and clinical results to tailor supplements and diet changes to each person. Then our health coaches act as a guide, setting goals and making sure our patients reach their goals. Everyone needs a health guide. I need a health guide!

Q

What kind of results can be expected from collagen supplements?

A

Stronger nails and hair; stronger connective tissue (think ligaments and tendons). Some say that collagen reduces cellulite but we have only seen this on a case by case basis. I add it to my smoothie in the mornings for an extra source of protein for better insulin balance. It also helps me stay full longer.

There is some evidence that taking certain types of collagen can improve fine lines and signs of skin aging. Clinical evidence is limited and more research is needed. Collagen is a major structural component of the skin—like the cement that holds the cells of our skin and hair and nails together. Theoretically, it should keep skin supple and prevent the onset of premature wrinkles. Here’s the personalized-medicine caveat: There are so many factors that contribute to wrinkles and loss of skin-barrier integrity (exposure to pollution, UV rays, free radicals in general, dehydration, hormone balance, micronutrient deficiency). Collagen is just one small part of preventing wrinkles. Is it a piece of the puzzle—yes. Is it the answer—no.

Q

Knowing that collagen supplements have traditionally come from ground-up cow/rooster parts makes them decidedly less appealing… Are there other sources that you recommend? What about plant collagen supplements?

A

Plant-based collagen does not exist. Many products call themselves “plant-based collagen builders” or “plant-based collagen support” but they are not actually collagen and the degree to which they truly support collagen production in the body is still unclear.

Plant-based protein in general is not a highly useable source of protein for the body. Our Rebuild protein shakes, which contain a complete multivitamin, omega-3 fatty acids, powerful antioxidants, and 26 grams of protein to balance insulin, are vegan (pea- and rice-protein base). But they are optimized with branched chain amino acids like leucine so they most closely approximate animal protein. This makes them over 95 percent bioavailable. (Hemp protein for instance is less than 50 percent bioavailable; as are most vegan protein powders on the market, which are not optimized.) Grass-fed beef and whey from dairy are essentially 100 percent bioavailable.

Collagen comes from animal sources and the best are grass-fed beef sources. I recommend collagen from Great Lakes. If you eat grass-fed beef, think of collagen as a way to use the whole animal and not be wasteful.

Q

Biotin is often suggested for women with thinning hair: What’s the best form and dosage, and is this a supplement that should be taken regularly forever?

A

Biotin-8 by Thorne: We recommend one daily to twice daily. I never recommend that patients take this forever. I ask that they try a six-month trial and then re-evaluate.

I always recommend trying to get to the root cause of hair loss. It’s often a shift in female hormones (going off the pill, after having a baby), high stress, high male hormone levels, or even thyroid problems. At Parsley, we test you to make sure you’re not taking a supplement pointlessly and missing the real cause of your hair loss.

Q

What about adaptogens—which have you found can make a difference in the way we look and feel?

A

Adaptogens are awesome herbs that help you adapt, particularly to stress. They are molecules, typically plant-based, that work on the neuro-hormonal system in the body. I compare them to a thermostat: They turn the heat down if it’s too hot, and turn it up if it’s too cold, by sensitizing or desensitizing the cells in your body to chemical-based signals they receive. Adaptogens help your body improve its ability to handle physical, mental, and environmental changes by supporting balance and promoting homeostasis internally.

Why does this matter? And how do they help? Modern life is filled with stressors—too much work, too many texts, never-ending emails, not enough sleep, not enough sunshine. I could go on and on. When your body is out of whack from all of these outside forces, adaptogens help balance out the stress your body is experiencing. They calm and nourish the adrenal glands, so that they can safely leave their low-level-danger state. They can help stabilize everything from blood sugar to hormonal balance and blood pressure.

Here are few adaptogens to highlight:

  • Ashwagandha is a calming adaptogen, making it ideal for people with anxiety, insomnia, or nervous tension. It can relieve muscle spasms and, therefore, is helpful in treating fibromyalgia. The herb also stimulates the thyroid, so it can be helpful for hypothyroidism.

  • Rhodiola rosea has broad-reaching effects including restoring immune function, balancing blood sugar, and enhancing fertility. It also boosts alertness, lessens fatigue, and combats depression.

  • Asian ginseng is a natural stimulant.

  • Schisandra helps with temper and an over-active stress response.

We recommend using a saliva test to understand which stage of adrenal fatigue your body is in, and choosing adaptogen blends designed for that specific phase in order to change the stress response. Everyone is talking about adaptogens these days and they are great. But you should really know which ones your body needs before you start integrating them into your life. At Parsley, we never recommend taking anything without testing; we test your adrenals using a cortisol test most regular doctors aren’t using yet, and from there we judge which adaptogen blend is best for you: If your cortisol is high, the last thing you want to do is take a supplement that will increase it. If it’s low you can use a combination of adaptogenic herbs to support it.

I know I keep saying it, but it is so important: We live in a world where people are constantly self-diagnosing and taking the latest fad supplements without knowing what is actually happening in their bodies and that can be dangerous. Our goal is to help show our patients exactly what is happening in their bodies so that they can make better choices.

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