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What I Tell My Patients To Eat For Clear, Glowing Skin: A Hormone Expert Shares

Sara Gottfried, M.D.
April 10, 2016
Sara Gottfried, M.D.
Integrative Medicine Doctor
By Sara Gottfried, M.D.
Integrative Medicine Doctor
Sara Gottfried, M.D., is three-time New York Times bestselling author and a graduate of Harvard Medical School and MIT.
Photo by mbg creative
April 10, 2016

Dr. Sara Gottfried is a Harvard-trained MD, bestselling author, and leading expert on hormones. That's why were thrilled to team up with her for a new series this week on balancing your hormones for better health. If you're inspired to learn more, check out her new course, How To Balance Your Hormones For Glowing Skin, Deeper Sleep & Better Digestion.

In functional medicine, symptoms are divine messages from the body. It’s our job together to decode them, not rush to a new pill or cream. We need to identify the root cause and then create a protocol to heal that cause.

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The same rule applies whether the issue is acne, eczema, rosacea, wrinkles, weight gain, rapid aging, or diabetes. The skin is a mirror of the gut and mind. Symptoms of zits, redness, inflammation, dry skin, brittle nails, and tangled hair point to an imbalance that yearns to be addressed.

Food is information, a code interpreted by your gut, cells, immune system, and DNA. In simplest terms, functional medicine seeks to add inputs that create balance and remove inputs that take the body out of balance. Most of us need more minerals and antioxidants to keep our skin gorgeous and radiant, reflecting an inner state of harmony. Plain and simple, minerals detoxify you, and most of us are low in the key minerals for the skin, including zinc, sulfur, and silica.

How do you know? Take a good look in a mirror with natural light. Gently pinch your skin. If it doesn’t bounce back, your collagen may be lacking, leading to poor elasticity. If you see redness and bloating in your face, you may be inflamed. If you have zits, you may be zinc deficient. If that information makes you want to go eat carbs, you are almost certainly mineral deficient!

These are the foods that I tell my patients to eat to provide the code for clear, glowing skin:

1. Zinc

Zinc is essential to more than 300 enzymes in the body, affects more than 2,000 factors controlling your DNA expression, and works synergistically with vitamins to build supple skin and strong hair. That makes zinc a powerful ally in creating smoother, glowing skin.

It helps the body make new collagen and remove damaged collagen, so it’s a powerful nutrient in the prevention of wrinkles, stretch marks, sun damage, inflammation (acne, rosacea), pigmentary disorders (melasma), infection (warts), and hair loss. Many people who suffer with acne are deficient in zinc, and dermatologists have used zinc therapy internally and externally for centuries.

In functional medicine, we apply the “food first” philosophy—that means change what you’re eating before jumping to a pill, even a supplement. Eat zinc-rich foods, such as the following:

  • Seeds: pumpkin, sunflower, sesame
  • Nuts: cashews, pecans, macadamia, pine nuts
  • Seaweeds
  • Coconuts
  • Spinach
  • Spirulina
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2. Sulfur

Sulfur gives your skin luster and glow and is sometimes used to treat rosacea. My friend David Wolfe calls sulfur the “world’s best cosmetic” because it’s fundamental to the health of your skin, hair, and nails. And Stephanie Seneff, senior scientist at MIT, claims that sulfur deficiency is far more common than most people realize, contributing to inflammation (acne, rosacea), weight gain, and other health problems. We are in agreement that a high sulfur-containing food plan is in order. So where can you find it?

  • Greens, especially those with high nutrient-density like arugula, kale, watercress
  • Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts
  • Radish (black, daikon, and red)
  • Clean protein, including low-mercury fish like wild-caught salmon, organic and/or pastured beef and poultry
  • Hemp seeds
  • Bee pollen
  • Blue-green algae (I like E3 Live)
  • Maca (especially good if your estrogen is low)
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3. Antioxidants

Your skin will age faster if you don’t strike a balance between oxidation and antioxidants. That means getting vitamins A, C, and E from food. Lack of vitamin C could also lead to progesterone deficiency and estrogen dominance, which can increase your risk of rosacea and autoimmune conditions.

  • Drink green tea, an antioxidant powerhouse due to the high concentration of catechin compounds. Green tea is used orally and externally to help protect the skin from sun damage and has been shown to reduce redness and broken capillary veins. Dose: 1 cup once or twice per day.
  • Vitamin A: carrots, spinach, and dandelion.
  • Vitamin C: cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, mango, papaya, pineapple, berries, watermelon.
  • Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, almonds, turnip greens, and avocado.
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4. Silica

Silica or silicon is another crucial mineral that keeps your skin happy (not to be confused with synthetic silicone used for breast implants). Silica-rich foods include the following:

  • Green beans
  • Nettles
  • Alfalfa
  • Burdock
  • Oats
  • Cucumbers
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Young greens (baby arugula, baby spinach)
  • Bell peppers
  • Herbs: horsetail, oat straw, marjoram
  • Mineral water
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5. Anti-inflammatory fats

I take an agnostic view of diet: You don’t need to be plant-based or Paleo or an omnivore to benefit from functional medicine and my recommendations. I’m married to an environmentalist, but we eat some meat once or twice per week. I have a gene that helps me lose weight when I eat more fish, but I also like bison and organic tempeh (fermented soybeans).

When it comes to fat, I love omega-3s. In fact, I spent a summer in Alaska working for the Department of Fish and Game, eating wild-caught salmon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My skin, hair, and nails were never so healthy. Here are the fats that I recommend to rock your locks and skin:

  • Avocado
  • Coconut milk (unsweetened) and oil
  • Low-mercury fish (cod, salmon, halibut, tilapia) and seafood
  • Pastured meats to get amino acids glycine and proline for making collagen
  • Bone broth

What to Avoid

Just as important as adding foods that are rich in minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats is to remove the anti-nutrient and hormone-disrupting foods, such as the following:

  • Processed foods
  • Sugar, and artificial sweeteners
  • Gluten
  • Dairy (Some people can tolerate raw dairy or fermented dairy, but others may get acne or eczema. An elimination diet can be helpful.)
  • Alcohol (Sadly, it raises your level of bad estrogens, contributing to rosacea, autoimmune conditions, and broken capillaries.)
  • Nightshades, including tomatoes and potatoes—they may cause inflammation of skin and joints, such as eczema and arthritis. Again, an elimination diet may be helpful.

I firmly believe that taking the time to heal your inner ecosystem will enhance your outer beauty. It’s an investment worth making!

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Sara Gottfried, M.D.
Sara Gottfried, M.D.

Sara Gottfried, M.D. is three-time New York Times bestselling author of The Hormone Cure, The Hormone Reset Diet, and her newest book, Younger. After graduating from Harvard Medical School and MIT, Dr. Gottfried completed her residency at the University of California at San Francisco. She is a board-certified gynecologist who teaches natural hormone balancing in her novel online programs so that women can lose weight, detoxify, and slow down aging. Dr. Gottfried lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two daughters. Learn more at

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