When it comes to our health, I like to understand both the big picture of whole foods and the whole body; and also love learning the science that explains the intricacy and details of how our cells work. Today I want to take a deep dive with you into a very special protein in the body, called elastin. It doesn’t always get much air time, but when it comes to glowing skin, elastin is crucial to understand and support.
Elastin is a protein found in the connective tissue that is rich in the amino acids glycine and proline. Elastin structure plays an important role1 in arteries (found in vessels and the heart- stretching to control blood pressure), lungs, ligaments (allows spring in cartilage to absorb shock and avoid injury), cartilage, the bladder and of course, our skin.
Elastin protein is highly elastic like the name suggests, and its main function is to help skin return to position after stretching or contracting. Imagine stretching and releasing a rubber and how it bounces back to its original shape.
Now imagine a stretched-out rubber band that doesn’t bounce back so easily. This is what can happen to elastin in the body over time as a result of imbalanced nutrition, age, and sluggish autophagy2.
In my New York Times Bestselling Book, Glow 15, I talk about harnessing the power of autophagy, or cellular recycling, to rebuild skin cells and effectively de-age the skin. Elastin is a key component of this and so important for skin health.
When it comes to skin health and radiance, elastin means elasticity and resilience in the skin. We produce less elastin as we age and this reduction over time can contribute to fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin. When elastin is strong and plentiful, it actually inhibits skin changes related to age. It is also possible that the body produces abnormal elastin function or puts elastin in inappropriate places in response to free-radical damage from the sun, smoking and other toxin exposures.
Elastin is often used topically in the cosmetics industry as a potent topical to help improve skin’s elasticity and reverse signs of aging. However, our internal nutrition, lifestyle, and self-care are equally important. It is essential to protect our skin, both inside and out, from toxins.
Collagen protein gets a lot of airtime when it comes to skin health, and for good reason. Collagen is essential for providing the framework and structure to skin, as well as other tissues in the body. Collagen vs Elastin: Whereas collagen provides the structure, elastin provides the flexibility. And the truth is that we really need them both working in partnership.
Collagen and elastin are humectants meaning that they hold on to water making them essential for maintaining the hydration of the skin and creating that plumpness and glow that we all desire.
This 2015 study in The Open Nutraceuticals Journal showed that collagen supplementation improves the smoothness and hydration of skin and diminished the appearance of wrinkles.
What’s more, is that collagen contains glycine and proline which are also important for elastin formation. So, supplementing with collagen can improve both. A 2014 double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that collagen supplementation significantly improves the skin elasticity levels in older women when compared to placebo. And another 2014 study showed that collagen supplementation improved elastin production and reduced skin wrinkles over an 8-week period.
This is great news and means that our nutrition and lifestyle choices that support overall health, autophagy and collagen production, are also positively impacting elastin skin care. And if you’re anything like me, I know that you want the “rubber band in your skin” to easily bounce back for years to come.
1Boost autophagy – Autophagy is not only essential for our overall health and wellness, it is essential for harnessing the skin’s ability to produce elastin and other important compounds. Autophagy essentially works to clear out the toxins and debris from cells and then promotes cells to regenerate and replicate. Since your cells make elastin, upping this process is a foundational way to view beauty from the inside out along with total health and wellness.
Personally, I use many different tools to promote autophagy including a keto diet, intermittent fasting, prioritizing sleep and self-care, using autophagy-boosting polyphenols both topically and internally and reducing my exposure to toxins as much as I’m able to control.
2Eat skin and connective tissue – I love the naturopathic principle that “like heals like” so when we desire to improve our skin and connective tissues (such as ligaments and joints) eating those parts of the animal can be extremely helpful. This doesn’t require any special culinary skill and often including a couple of cups of bone broth daily can do the trick. In addition, choose poultry with the skin on and bone-in, choose tougher cuts of meat and slow cook them until tender and when eating fish, eat the skin and tender bones as much as possible.
You may also consider supplementing with collagen protein in order to improve both collagen and elastin production in the body. When it comes to collagen, high quality is key! It is important to source collagen from grass-fed, pasture raised beef or a clean, quality marine source.
3Include antioxidant plant compounds – Sometimes animal foods get all the attention when it comes to elastin, but plants are essential! Just like collagen formation, elastin formation requires vitamin C. Vitamin C, along with other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients act as antioxidants to protect the skin, and the fragile elastin, from the daily onslaught of toxin exposure. I can’t overstate enough how important colorful, fiber-rich plant foods are! Here are some specific foods:
Cacao – flavonoid compounds in raw cacao are considered pro-collagen and pro-elastin and cacao contains copper which helps the skin to incorporate elastin protein into collagen. So, add that scoop of raw cacao to your smoothie or that super dark chocolate for a treat. AutophaTea – A great source of polyphenols from green tea, black tea, and Ceylon cinnamon. AutophaTea can increase circulation and protect the body, and skin, from free radicals.
Blueberries – Blueberries contain an anthocyanin compound that can protect skin structure and function from photo-aging.
Nuts and Seeds – Among the many health benefits of nuts and seeds, they are a good source of manganese, which is important for collagen and elastin production. Other good, keto-friendly sources of manganese include leafy greens and sea vegetables.
4Improve hydration – As I mentioned, elastin helps the skin and tissues hold on to water, so maintaining hydration allows you to see the improvements in your skin from all of these other measures. I like to start my day with 16 ounces of ice water with lemon and then drink filtered or hydrogen water throughout the day. Instead of measuring the amount of water I drink, I pay attention to thirst and make sure I urinate at least 6 times per day.
As you can see, elastin is an important compound for skin elasticity and slowing the signs of aging. If you are working to improve your skin and all of this resonates with you, I invite you to join my Look Years Younger in Only Five Days Challenge where you can jumpstart your path to improving skin health by flooding your body with all of the important nutrition compounds to increase elastin in skin.
1 Subtle balance of tropoelastin molecular shape and flexibility regulates dynamics and hierarchical assembly