A healthy heart gives you more beautiful, younger looking skin. But the opposite is true as well, because unhealthy-looking, inflamed skin can be a telltale sign of possible heart problems.
Two of our skin’s most tormenting conditions—eczema and psoriasis—aren’t just cosmetic nuisances, although the itchy, scaly, red patches can look bad, especially on the face. These rashy outbreaks are evidence of an overactive immune system and recent research shows that they may be a red flag for increased heart-disease risk.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is the milder and more common of the two conditions. It’s linked to higher cholesterol and higher blood pressure, which in turn are connected to increased heart attack and stroke risk.
Like eczema, psoriasis is an autoimmune condition and, disturbingly, indicates that a person afflicted with it has up to three times the heart-attack risk of a person without it. People with psoriasis have dry, itchy, scaly red patches that in some cases grow into thickened skin lesions called plaques.
Both skin problems are due to an overactive inflammatory response by the body’s immune system. Simply put, the immune system mistakenly treats the skin like an unwelcome outsider and attacks it. It’s that chronic inflammation throughout the body that damages the circulatory system and ultimately harms the heart.
But there is
some good news: A skin-healthy diet is also a heart-healthy diet. By eating to reduce inflammation and making healthier lifestyle choices, you can improve your health inside and out.
(Of course, any time you have a persistent mystery rash, you should see a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment, but eating right is one way you can help yourself.)
Start by cutting back on foods that foster inflammation, including:
- saturated fats (from butter, cheese, cream, red meat)
- fried foods
- heavily processed food (e.g., fast food, frozen dinners, snack foods)
- sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners
Instead, get more of your nutrition from whole foods, such as:
- soy products (soy milk, tofu)
- whole grains (bulgur, brown rice, oatmeal)
- nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts)
- fresh vegetables (especially dark greens, such as broccoli, kale and spinach)
- fresh fruit (especially berries)
- olive oil
- lean protein (specifically, salmon)
If you have any kind of autoimmune condition, omega-3 fatty acids are especially beneficial because they calm inflammatory reactions. Omega-3s are a type of fat that your body needs, but can’t make on its own and must get from food. The best food sources are salmon, tuna and sardines, but if you don’t like fish or are a vegetarian, you can also find them in soy, walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds.