Every winter, my hands get painfully dry and cracked, and my lips start flaking. I was complaining about it recently to a friend, who told me that coconut oil is the only thing that makes her dry, itchy skin stop cracking. I found a jar at the local health food store for under $10 and decided I had nothing to lose. It worked like a charm! My hands are soft and my lips are no longer rough and flakey. I even noticed that some of my wrinkles are less obvious.
That got me thinking: Are other kinds of foods helpful for skin problems? After looking into the research, I can say – boy, are there! Here are three that seem effective for a broad range of problems.
There are many studies looking at the therapeutic benefit of coconut oil. In patients with atopic dermatitis or eczema – that is, skin that’s frequently inflamed and miserably itchy — the use of coconut oil improves healing and prevents infection with bacteria, viruses and fungus. Specifically and importantly it prevents infection with staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that can cause everything from boils to life-threatening pneumonia.
Studies have also found that coconut oil effectively moisturizes the skin and improves its appearance. In research on coconut oil and wound healing, researchers noted that it speeds the turnover rate of collagen. Taking that out of research-speak, that means coconut oil may also help to diminish wrinkles.
As an interesting aside, massage is standard therapy for preterm babies. A recent study found that babies massaged with coconut oil gained weight and grew faster than babies massaged with mineral oil.
Bonus: Coconut oil is inexpensive and can be safely used as a moisturizer and lip balm.
Honey has been used as medicine for thousands of years, and now scientists are taking it seriously. Recently, multiple studies have examined its wound-healing properties. The result: A specific type of honey from New Zealand, known as Manuka honey, has powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. And specialists have found that another kind of honey, packaged in a special gel called medihoney, actually heals some challenging wounds better than standard therapies.
Please note! If you have a cut or a sore, do not take out your jar of honey and start applying it. Not all honey is made the same when it comes to healing properties. It depends on the kind of honey and when it is harvested. Medihoney is made specifically for medicinal use and cannot be found on the honey shelf at the grocery store.
Garlic has surprisingly potent antifungal properties, which makes it a very effective treatment for athlete’s foot. In fact, a study done in 2000 compared a garlic solution to the fungus cream Lamisil. Volunteers applied either the garlic paste or Lamisil to their feet twice a day for two months, at the end of which the garlic had a 100% cure rate versus 94% for Lamisil.
You can make your own paste by mashing a few cloves with olive oil, or you can try mashing it and putting it into a footbath. It’s cheap and easily available – the only downside is that things might get a bit stinky, especially when your feet get hot and sweaty.
In this day and age, when we are dealing with antibiotic resistant bacteria and hard-to-treat infections, it is very interesting to think that food may be the ultimate healer. That famous old-time physician named Hippocrates had it right. His guidance to the rest of us: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
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File under: Expert Spotlight