Foods and Vitamins To Improve Your Stretch Marks
Stretch marks affect all of us and one of the most successful methods is using foods to prevent stretch marks from appearing in the first place.
These white marks can take months or even years to eliminate completely. Prevention is the best way to avoid having to deal with these pesky stretch marks at all, and is easily achieved through diet alone.
Although getting rid of stretch marks can be difficult, there are a few great options for reducing and eliminating them from the skin. The best treatment, however, as with anything, is in prevention.
If you are prone to developing stretch marks, it’s important to take some extra measures to reduce the chances of them occurring in the first place.
The most effective area of prevention, begins with the diet.
What Are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks form when the middle layer of skin is stretched beyond its breaking point and tears. This is a common finding in pregnant women during the rapid growth of the fetus. It’s reported that approximately 75-90% of all pregnant women will develop stretch marks in one form or another.
The skin can be divided into 3 layers, the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. The dermis is the outermost layer of skin, and forms the protective and waterproof barrier for the layers below. The dermis is the middle layer and consists mainly of connective tissue. This is generally the problem area when it comes to stretch marks. The hypodermis is made from subcutaneous fat cells, which can swell to many times their size with fat.
As weight is put on, whether from pregnancy or through muscle or fat gain, the skin is forced to expand so as to accommodate this additional mass and surface area. The skin can only grow at a certain rate, and if the rate of fat or fetal growth exceeds the rate at which the skin can multiply and divide to accommodate this, the skin will tear.
The normal healing process is to bring inflammation to the area, which can be seen by the red hue that a fresh stretch mark will leave in the skin. Red blood cells bringing oxygen and nutrients, along with white blood cells, will flood the area in an attempt to assess and repair the damage. Fresh sticky collagen will deposit in the area to repair it and attach everything back together. As the damage is repaired, the site will begin to have a whitish, silverish look instead. The wound will essentially become scar tissue and will have a high level of collagen in the site of injury.
Other factors that can increase the chances that stretch marks will appear could be through reduced elastin or collagen proteins in the skin. When the mass beneath the skin begins to swell from a fetus or added fat or muscle, the skin will stretch. If these proteins are not present in high enough amounts to keep the skin staying together and flexible, small tears or rips in the middle layer of connective tissue are much more likely.
What Are The Risk Factors For Stretch Marks
The main mechanism for stretch marks, is through rapid weight gain. This is most commonly due to pregnancy, or rapid fat or muscle gain. The short duration of the weight gain causes the skin to stretch and swell before it has a chance to grow and accommodate the expansion. The skin eventually reaches a breaking point where it will tear and become damaged.
The risk factors for developing stretch marks have a genetic factor as well, and can also stem from a dysfunction with the collagen producing cells, or elastin producing cells of the skin. Elastin is the stretchy, elastic protein found in the skin responsible for its ability to stretch and rebound. Collagen is another protein that serves as a means of connecting neighboring cells together.
The risk factors for stretch marks includes pregnancy, weight gain, steroid use, thyroid dysfunctions, or any other mechanism that leads to a rapid amount of weight gain.
Food To Prevent Stretch Marks
Although many people consider stretch marks a necessary evil during pregnancy, this does not need to be the case. There are actually many foods that will help improve the skin’s ability to resist stretch marks, and can actually prevent them altogether.
There are a few main mechanisms that specific foods can target to prevent the development of stretch marks; improving collagen synthesis, improving elastin synthesis, hydrating the skin, increasing cell division and cell growth, and slowing weight gain.
Improving Collagen Synthesis
Collagen is a sticky protein that holds the bodies cells together. It is the most abundant protein in the entire body, making up roughly 30-40% of all proteins in humans. It’s this protein that keeps the cells uniform. Without it, the body would simply fall apart.
In the formation of stretch marks, the skin cells are forced apart and stretched. When the collagen fails, a wound will form in the skin and turn red as the body attempts to repair the damage.
Collagen synthesis is the process that creates collagen. It is made by combining Glycine, Proline, Hydroxyproline and Arginine together. These are all amino acids that are obtained through the diet from protein rich foods.
You can ensure collagen synthesis is functioning optimally by consuming adequate amounts of proteins, and foods that are known to stimulate the production of collagen in the body.
There are several food groups that are well known to promote the production of collagen:
Soy has a chemical known as genistein, which has been found to enhance collagen synthesis. It is also reported to reduce the natural aging of the skin by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks the skin down as we age.
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy veggies like kale and spinach are rich in the antioxidant luteolin which can help protect the skin from oxidative damage that can affect the formation of collagen in the body, as well as vitamin C which plays a significant role in the formation of collagen. Vitamin C acts as a coenzyme to the formation of new cells and collagen.
Sulphur containing foods like onions, garlic, brussel sprouts and bok choy can also help with the formation of collagen.
Carnosine does not specifically stimulate or promote collagen synthesis, however, it does maintain that the collagen that is formed is in optimal condition. This protein is found mainly in turkey. It prevents a process known as cross-linking which can cause fibers to grow into the collagen and make the skin stiff.
Improving Elastin Synthesis
Elastin is another important protein for the skin. Like its name implies, it is the component responsible for the elasticity of the skin. It is what allows the skin to return to normal after being stretched. As we age, less of this protein is produced, resulting in less elasticity of the skin. The skin begins to sag, and wrinkles can form.
A good test to do that can check the level of elasticity of the skin is to place your hand on a desk. Pinch the skin covering your hand together and hold it for 3 seconds.
Now let go and allow the skin to snap back into place, while counting the seconds it takes to return to normal. The longer it takes for the skin to return to normal, the less elasticity your skin has. Although you have only tested your hand in this test, the same amount will be found throughout your body, and it will give you a good idea about the level of elastin present in your skin.
Foods high in copper can help promote the formation of elastin in the skin. There are a lot of foods that contain copper, but the most significant ones include cocoa, oysters, and liver.
Manganese, just like copper, plays a crucial role in the formation of elastin. This mineral is easily obtained from dietary sources like whole grains, nuts, cabbage, and soy.
Hydrating The Skin
Water is crucial in maintaining the health of the skin in general. All processes of the body, including the cells of the skin require water to function.
During cell division, water is a crucial component to the process. It allows for the increase in size needed by the cell before dividing, and is a crucial component in the production of energy that drives cell division.
Additionally, water helps maintain homeostasis inside the body, part of which involves fat loss or gain. In those who do not drink enough water, a common side effect is weight gain. Weight gain can then lead to the formation of stretch marks.
During fat metabolism, which is the goal of any weight loss or prevention program, water is a crucial component during its breakdown. This is a process known as “beta-oxidation”.
The long chain fatty acids are oxidised, and water is split apart to provide oxygen and hydrogen to the process. Without water, it is impossible to breakdown fats.
By consuming plenty of water (about 2.2 L for the average sized person), this component will be supplied in sufficient amounts to keep the process moving at a healthy rate.
This is similar to some of the other components discussed, including the vitamins and minerals. If there are not enough components for the process to occur, just like in the case of building a castle without enough bricks or mortar, the process will come to a halt. By ensuring that there is always plenty of building blocks around, in this case the water, the processes that build new skin cells, and burn fat will be able to function at optimal levels. This will then play a significant role in the prevention of stretch mark formation by keeping the skin healthy and strong, and slowing or halting fat deposition.
Improving Cell Division and Cell Growth
During the formation of stretch marks, the issue is that the cells of the skin cannot multiply fast enough to compensate for the added mass and surface area beneath the tissue. By improving cell division with adequate intake of the building blocks needed for the process to occur, you can reduce the chances of stretch marks forming. If the skin can grow fast enough to keep up with the expanding mass below, there won’t be any problems. This is especially the case pregnancy where much of the dietary intake is used up by the fetus.
Foods that will achieve this include adequate intake of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Follow the recommended daily intakes of your specific age and gender for best results.
Slowing or Reducing Weight Gain
In many cases, stretch marks are the result of rapid weight gain. As fat increases, the surface area on the skin must also increase. This causes the skin to stretch as it tries to keep up with the additional surface area. If the weight gain was stopped, or slowed to a point where the skin can keep up with the growth needed to accommodate the expanding tissue below stretch marks are not likely to appear.
Diet is the main factor that controls the growth or loss of weight in the body, and the rate in which it is gained or lost as well.
The main idea behind weight gain, is that if more energy is consumed than used up, the excess will be stored as fat. It doesn’t matter what the form the energy comes in. Fats, sugars, and proteins will all be broken down and converted to energy. This energy, if in excess will all go through a pathway in the body that stores it as fat for later use.
Maintaining a well balanced diet, and keeping up with regular exercise can limit the amount of energy stored as fat in the body. This can reduce the strain on the skin, and help prevent it from tearing and causing stretch marks.
Muscle gain can also be a cause for stretch marks, and bodybuilders are often plagued with the condition as well. This can be prevented by minimising the gain of muscle mass. If the muscle is gained gradually over time rather than quickly in a short period of time, the chances of stretch marks forming in the skin can be greatly reduced.
Omega Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that play a key role in the prevention of inflammation in the body. Essential means that we are not able to produce this nutrient on our own and will need to obtain it from the diet. This also means it is fairly easy to become deficient if the diet doesn’t include healthy servings of this vital nutrient on a regular basis.
Omega 3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and keeps skin healthy and elastic. Deficiencies in omega 3 fatty acids often show up as symptoms of poor skin tone and quality.
Fish oils are some of the highest known sources of omega 3 fatty acids in the world. Different fish offer different levels of the omega 3 fatty acids. Salmon is an incredibly potent source of omega 3, followed by sardines, cod liver, and herring. Fish consumed raw in dishes like sushi or sashimi optimise the omega 3 fatty acid levels because there is no heat to destroy the fatty acid content. Cooked fish are still a great source of omega 3, but the heat has a tendency of damaging the fatty acid chains and reducing the amount contained in the food overall. You can also find omega 3 fatty acids in fish oils by supplemental form.
In the plant world, omega 3 fatty acids are actually fairly hard to come by. Vegetarians are forced to take extra measures to get adequate amounts of this essential fatty acid. Some seeds, however, like flax and chia, have a high amount of omega 3 fatty acids contained within the seed coat. This fatty acid is used as a source of fuel for the seed.
The best way to consume the highest quality source of omega 3 is to eat a regular intake of organic, fresh flax seed. This is because as flax seed ages the omega fatty acid content begins to oxidise and is no longer effective. For the same reason, it’s best to keep flax seeds in a cool, dark spot, like the refrigerator and eat them fairly quickly.
Flax seed oil products are also available, and are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids that can be added to salads or other meals, but have an even lower shelf life than flax seeds. The seed coat helps to prevent the oxidation of the fatty acids inside the seeds.
If using flax seed oil, it is important not to heat the oil, since it will speed up the oxidation process and make the oil no longer effective. It is also important to keep the oil in the fridge, and use it quickly.
Just like flax seed, chia is a great source of omega 3 fatty acid. This is the seed used for the well known “chia pets”. The seed forms a sticky goo when soaked as the seed coat degrades. This allows it to stick to rocks, or other surfaces to grow.
The seed itself is an impressive source of omega 3 fatty acids at almost 18% of its total weight!
Chia seeds make a great addition to salads, and can be added to pretty much anything for an added boost of omega 3.
A cold pressed seed oil is another great option that can be used to achieve a quick boost of the omega fatty acid. In the same way as flax seed oil, the fatty acids will degrade fairly quickly and has a low shelf life if not properly stored. To prolong the shelf life, it is important to keep the oil in a cool dark place such as the refrigerator. To further enhance the shelf life, an airtight container with as little air as possible should also be used.
Having a balanced omega fatty acid intake is important for the maintenance of healthy skin. A ratio of 1:1 omega 3 to omega 6 is generally desired for best results. Since omega 3 and omega 6 have different benefits on the skin, but use the same pathways, it is important to keep this ratio as close to this as possible. In modern times, omega 6 is usually consumed in much higher amounts than omega 3, leading to a number of problems, including low skin fluidity which can promote the development of stretch marks.
Sesame seed oil is a popular cooking oil high in omega 6 fatty acids. This oil packs in around 40% omega 6 fatty acids. The downside to sesame oil, is that when the oil is used for cooking, the heat rapidly breaks down the omega 6 fatty acids. For this reason, sesame oil is best used cold, as a salad dressing or other foods where heating is not required. It could also be used with cooked foods as long as it is added after the dish has been heated to avoid breaking it down further and degrading the essential fatty acid content.
Raw, organic peanut butter contains about 12 g of omega 6 fatty acid per 100g serving.
Zinc is a crucial component in the formation of collagen.
This is the protein that holds your skin cells together.
Healthy collagen levels will help prevent stretch marks from forming and can go a long way in preventing their formation in general.
If the skin is connected together stronger, with more collagen, the skin will have a higher resistance to tears and breaks.
Lentils contain roughly 1.5% zinc, which is high in terms of fruits and veggies. This is a great source of protein as well, making them a perfect food for the prevention of stretch marks in the skin. It is a popular food for pregnant women in India for its ability to help reduce the prevalence of stretch marks during the pregnancy.
Grass Fed Beef
Beef is a great source of zinc. Your total recommended daily intake is met with a single 9 oz steak. Choose organic and grass fed beef only for best results, and be sure to combine with a healthy serving of vegetables, including something high in fiber.
Vitamin C is an important essential nutrient used to maintain the health of the skin. It acts as a catalyst in the cells of the body, including the skin to produce proteins that work as structural and restorative processes in the body.
Consuming foods high in vitamin C can help improve the skin’s elasticity, and will go a long way in preventing the development of stretch marks in the skin.
A single grapefruit or 2 oranges will deliver nearly the exact same amount of vitamin C. They will provide an entire gram of vitamin C. That’s about 150% of your recommended daily intake. These delicious fruits make great additions to smoothies, or alone as a fresh pressed juice. For best results try to find the freshest grapefruits possible since vitamin C has a tendency of degrading quickly once exposed to oxygen. If making juice, try to consume within a few days at the most in order to get the best benefit from the vitamin C content.
Camu camu is a fruit found growing in the Amazon rain forest. It is intensely sour, and as such is not a common find at your local supermarket. This intense sour flavor is due to the incredibly potent amount of vitamin C contained within the fruit. Camu camu is in fact the most potent source of vitamin C on the planet. The dried, powdered fruit is about 15% vitamin C by weight.
Not many enjoy to eat the sour fruit, and very few markets will even sell it. Instead, the powder is preferred, and is easily sourced online and in health food shops. You can mix the powder in a smoothie, or take it in a capsule. This is a great way to get your daily vitamin C needs from a natural, and possibly even organically grown source.
As with any of the vitamin C containing foods, it is best to consume the camu camu as quick as possible because the vitamin C will degrade over time. Despite the fact that a powdered fruit will speed this process even more than if it remained in the fruit, the sheer volume of vitamin C in camu camu to begin with means you won’t have to worry about a strong dose of vitamin C with every gram of powder, up to about 3 months time.
Broccoli is actually a great source of vitamin C. When most people think of the vitamin, they think about fruits like oranges, kiwis, and lemons. Few people consider the fact that vegetables are a rich source of the vitamin as well. Broccoli in particular has a high concentration of vitamin C with every bite. Fresh broccoli is best, but cooked broccoli will still deliver a healthy serving of vitamin C to the plate, helping to strengthen the skin and ward off potential stretch marks.
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant.
In terms of stretch marks, this antioxidant profile can go a long way in preventing the degradation of skin, which will increase the chances of tearing or forming striae.
Consuming a diet high in vitamin E can keep the skin stay fluid and resistant to stretch mark formation.
A single avocado delivers 40% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin E, as well as 90% of your daily vitamin C intake. These fruits are also high in polyunsaturated fat, which are effective at keeping the skin soft and fluid, and resisting rigidity associated with stretch mark formation. They are high energy, and can sustain a single person for hours on end. One of the most common uses of avocados are during weight loss regimens to keep the body feeling full on only small portions of food.
In terms of stretch mark prevention avocados are a staple.
Although nuts can vary greatly in their content, all nuts are a rich source of vitamin E, as well as polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals, and protein. All of which lend to the maintenance of healthy, and stretch mark resistant skin.
Peanut butter is a favorite among many, and with good reason. A single serving on toast will provide around 3 mg of vitamin E, along with 10 grams of protein.
Be sure to choose peanut butter that has no added salt, sugar, or hydrogenated oils for best results. None of these additions will do you any favors in the prevention of stretch marks on the skin.
Vitamin A is important for the maintenance of great skin health. Similarly, to vitamin E, it is a potent antioxidant. Additionally, vitamin A has the ability to promote the growth of new skin tissues. This is a key step in the prevention of stretch marks because it helps the skin to grow faster in order to accommodate the increasing mass beneath the middle and top layers of skin.
Vitamin A is found especially high in orange colored fruits and vegetables. These include pumpkins, carrots, squash, and mango. Other sources include the dark leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, as well as broccoli and collard greens.
Pumpkins are a rich source of vitamin A, with about 8500 ICU for every 100 grams.
Liver is a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and many of the trace minerals also needed for cell division and overall health of the skin.
Mangos offer a healthy serving of vitamin A with each serving. Clocking in at 1600 IU with every fruit they deliver more than 30% of your daily recommended intake.
Mangos are also a rich source of vitamin C and fiber.
Spinach is a great source of vitamin A, packing a whopping 30 000 IU of vitamin A for an average serving. That’s over 635% of your daily recommended serving. Fortunately vitamin A is very safe to consume, and will not pose any risk over the recommended daily intake recommendations.
It’s easy to achieve a potent dose of vitamin A with nearly all dark leafy green vegetables in as little as one salad or smoothie a day.
Similarly to spinach, kale packs a potent dose of vitamin A with every serving. Kale actually has an even higher concentration of vitamin A, packing in over 50 000 IU of vitamin A for the same serving.
It’s no wonder everyone always says to eat your veggies, no meat sources will ever deliver the same level of vitamin A as the dark leafy vegetables, and on top of that, vitamin A is actually quite common in the plant world, though not in these high amounts.
Sweet potatoes are one of the most beloved foods in the western diet. This vegetable is a potent source of the orange vitamin A molecule. It is useful as a means of enriching the skin and keeping it lush and healthy. Sweet potatoes can be eaten baked, boiled, or roasted and is a delicious addition to soups and stews.
Water is needed for all cell division, tissue repair, and in the maintenance of healthy skin. If you don’t consume enough water, collagen, elastin, and cell growth will suffer, all increasing the chances of developing stretch marks.
A good rule of thumb to determine the amount of water that should be consumed is to take half of your body weight in pounds, and consume that amount in ounces of water. For example, someone who weighs 150 pounds, should consume 75 ounces of water a day. This equates to about 2200ml or 2.2 L a day.
A great way to accomplish this is through foods that are also high in water naturally like watermelon, cucumber, and tomatoes. All of which are useful for other aspects of skin health as well.
Collagen and elastin are both proteins that keep the skin healthy and are useful for healing and preventing stretch marks. All proteins are made up of amino acids which are absorbed from the gut. By consuming a diet high in proteins, these amino acids can be supplied in adequate amounts. This allows the building blocks for these important proteins to be available when the body needs them, as in the case of multiplying or dividing skin cells during growth. If these proteins are allowed to thrive in high amounts, the prevalence of stretch marks will diminish and the skin will become strong and resistant.
All protein is needed in the maintenance of healthy skin. There are certain amino acids that make up proteins, however, that are needed specifically in the production of collagen that keeps skin strong, and is used to repair the damage from stretch marks in the skin. These amino acids include glycine, proline, hydroxyproline and arginine.
There are numerous supplements you can take to improve the resistance your skin has to stretch marks.
These supplements can be taken along with a balanced diet to optimise the skin’s health, but should not be relied upon as a “cure-all”.
The best way to look at supplements is as an optimisation agent, making everything better to the final degree when combined with healthy lifestyles, and a balanced diet.
These supplements specifically improve the collagen throughout the body. They have been proven to boost healthy collagen levels and strengthen the skin.
Vitamin C Tablets
Vitamin C helps with the formation of collagen in the skin. Although it is better to obtain vitamin C from the diet, supplemental vitamin C can go a long way in strengthening the skin, especially in situations where the chances of stretch marks are high like during pregnancy, weight gain, or body building.
Minerals like zinc act as catalysts in the process of forming collagen. Zinc is another supplement best taken through the diet, but can deliver a boost during times of additional stress on the skin.
Caffeine is a useful chemical when it comes to weight loss and prevention. The usefulness of caffeine stems from its actions on the central nervous system. This system is responsible for controlling nearly all actions throughout the body, including homeostasis. Through stimulating this system, caffeine will give a sensation of wakefulness, and ramps up metabolism. We feel energised and awake, in part because of a direct stimulation on the brain, but also through an increase in metabolism which gives us a boost of the energy molecule “ATP”.
With more of our sugar, and fat stores being converted to ATP (the chemical form of energy), and more stimulation to use it up, we can help reduce weight, or in the least slow the accumulation of fat. This can help our skin get a chance to keep up with the fat stores, and may prevent stretch marks.
Caffeine has been used as a weight loss or weight control supplement for a long time. It is a natural, and safe chemical obtained from such common plants as coffee and tea.
Although caffeine does not usually come from foods, it is a highly useful addition to any diet plan or regimen to treat or prevent stretch marks, especially those from rapid fat accumulation. It should be noted that caffeine is not suitable during pregnancy because of its ability to pass into the developing fetus brain.
Green tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. It has been a popular drink for centuries as a way to promote concentration, and reduce fatigue. In more recent years, its high antioxidant value has been a main selling point and is attributed to its longevity promoting effects.
The caffeine in green tea can help stimulate metabolism and slow weight gain in the body, thus reducing the chance of stretch marks occurring. The potent antioxidant profile on the other hand helps with the maintenance of healthy skin by combating the damaging free radicals that we are faced with on a daily basis. This keeps the skin looking fresh, healthy, and elastic for many years to come.
Cha De Bugre
Cha de bugre is a popular weight loss herb in Brazil. It can be found commonly in the shops around the Rio beaches as a means of keeping the body slim and healthy. There are few stretch marks noted on the beaches of Rio, and although this is not entirely attributable to Cha de Bugre, the herb certainly holds a special place in the minds of the locals. This herb is great for keeping cellulite down, and combating or slowing the gain of weight that can eventually cause stretch marks if allowed to stack up too fast.
The active ingredient is unsurprisingly, caffeine. The common name in Brazil actually means “coffee of the woods” due to its similar stimulating actions and flavor.
Everybody knows about coffee. Some people these days seem confused whether coffee is a healthy beverage, or a negative one. A common misconception with coffee is to assume that since it is something people use every day, that gives us noticeable improvements in our cognitive ability, it must be bad for our health. This is far from the truth. In fact, coffee is one of the best health beverages available, and can even be related to the prevention of stretch marks in the skin. The main mechanism of action against stretch marks, is through its caffeine content.
Coffee is also a rich source of antioxidants. The bitter flavor that comes along with the beverage can help stimulate digestion, and balances out the energy levels obtained through diet. This helps to avoid any blood sugar spikes which can lead to fat deposits around the abdomen.
In much the same way as the other caffeine sources in this article, coffee can help slow and reduce the appearance of stretch marks in the skin by stimulating metabolism, and boosting energy levels. It is not something that can “melt the fat off’ like many supplements companies that include caffeine suggest, but does go along way as a sidekick to a killer diet and positive lifestyle.
Yerba maté is a popular tea drank throughout South America. Just like green tea and coffee, it contains high levels of antioxidants, and caffeine. It helps keep the skin happy and healthy, while simultaneously stimulating metabolism and reducing fat throughout the body.
The Best way to drink yerba mate is as a strong tea on a regular basis. The traditional method uses a special cup and filtered straw and adds a fun layer to the experience.
There are numerous foods available that are known to prevent stretch marks in the skin. The main ideas are to improve the health of the skin naturally with organic, pesticide free foods that have omega fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Any well balanced diet will deliver all of these nutrients without having to pay much attention to the various levels of each nutrient. Other aspects involve reducing or slowing weight gain, and improving the skin’s collagen and elastin contents in order to slow or prevent the destruction of the skin that develops into stretch marks.