How To Become a Successful Body-Part Model (Part II)
By George Gillson MD PhD CCFP
I’m not sure which body parts are being modelled by this young fellow but I’m guessing one or all the following: chin, ears, nose, lips, forehead and possibly part of the neck. Once again, let’s not get sidetracked by minor details here. When we last met, I talked about various things: skin proteins and how to support them, hydration, the need to support digestion and assimilation of nutrients, the role of Vitamin C and copper, the role of sex hormones, mitigation and avoidance of damage from free radicals and advanced glycation endproducts.
I also mentioned three overlooked supplements that can help preserve the youthful appearance of our skin as we age: silicon, nicotinamide and methylsulfonylmethane. I’ll now discuss each of these in turn.
Silicon and silicone are often conflated. Silicon is element number 14, living happily beneath carbon in the Periodic Table and eager to mate with it in chemical compounds. Silicone is the name of the soft, heat resistant silicon-containing polymer used for oven mitts, baking molds, baking sheets, bread pans, funky headgear and just about anything else you would like to repeatedly heat up to 400℉ or more.
Silicon has been recognized traditionally for its ability to strengthen hair, skin and nails by promoting collagen formation and repair (Araujo 2016, Martin 2013, Rondanelli 2021). Silicon is present as silicon dioxide in many vegetables and grains but thankfully, also in coffee, beer and wine. Orthosilicic acid (OSA) is the most bioavailable form of nutritional silicon and is well-studied. It is available in capsules delivering 5-7 mg of Si and that amount is probably about 20% of the amount of Si ingested in a well-rounded diet. Horsetail fern, recognized to have multiple health benefits by the ancient Romans and Greeks is also reputed to be good for hair and skin. The forms of Si in this plant are less bioavailable than OSA.
This is an unretouched image of horsetail fern stalks, looking a lot like asparagus. Some people eat the young shoots as an asparagus substitute, but I would stick with asparagus. Just saying.
Nicotinamide, also known as Niacinamide, is a natural derivative of Niacin or Vitamin B3. Many alert readers may know that Pellagra, the disease caused by B3 deficiency, is characterized by skin rashes, so we shouldn`t be surprised that Nicotinamide is good for skin. Nicotinamide-containing skin creams are non-irritating and have been shown to be effective for amelioration or reduction of blotchiness, hyperpigmentation, lines, wrinkles, skin yellowing, and improvement of elasticity (Bissett 2005).
Nicotinamide is purported to stimulate collagen formation but has other important mechanisms of action. I talked about free radical scavengers in Part I and nicotinamide makes up part of the structures of the famous twin antioxidant molecules, NADH and NADPH. I`ll say a bit more about antioxidants shortly.
NR and NMN are popular anti-aging supplements whose acronyms are short for Nicotinamide Riboside and Nicotinamide Mononucleotide. These compounds support the Sirtuin family of enzymes that play an important role in cell aging, affecting cell survival and turnover of aging cells, DNA repair, and general cell metabolism. Skin cells are no exception. If you want to know more about these supplements and anti-aging in general, this is a great read, written for the lay audience:
Eighty years ago, nicotinamide was given in 1- to 2-gram total daily doses for osteoarthritis by William Kaufman MD and it was shown then to be safe and effective. Clearly, nicotinamide is a busy molecule in human physiology, with a distinguished pedigree! At oral doses much above 3000-4000 mg/day, nicotinamide can be harmful to the liver but dosing for skin health and anti-aging falls well below this range and is quite safe.
Nicotinamide is fascinating (at least to me) but so is Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). When I first learned about MSM just over 25 years ago, nobody knew where it came from or how it worked. Regardless, I gave it to all my Family Practice patients whether they wanted it or not. Virtually all of them came back smiling a few weeks later. Although MSM can exert many, many beneficial effects, most of my female patients consistently came back raving about dramatic improvements in their hair, skin and nails, regardless of whatever else might have gotten better in the bargain. The worst case of acne rosacea I ever saw was cleared up in just a few weeks by MSM supplementation.
After devouring a pile of MSM weighing roughly 1/5 of my body weight over the last 25 years and reading everything that has ever been published on this supplement, I have to say that I know a thing or two about MSM. It is a natural sulfur-containing molecule normally present throughout the body and produced by the bacteria in the colon when sulfur-containing plants from the Allium family are eaten: leeks, onions, shallots, garlic, and scallions. Lots of food families such as the Crucifers also contain sulfur but not all of it is readily available.
The fact that MSM helped virtually every patient I ever gave it to lends support to the notion that most of us are staggering around with a flaming bioavailable sulfur deficiency, easily rectified by 1000 to 4000 mg/day of oral MSM. Whether taken by mouth or applied as a cream or lotion, MSMs effects on the skin include chemoprevention of cancer, antioxidation, anti-inflammation, increased cell membrane fluidity, and support for the sulfur-containing structural amino acid, cysteine. Even if I consumed the entire 1/5th of my bodyweight pile of MSM in one go, probably nothing would happen. Rat studies indicated that MSM is about as toxic as water.
An MD by the name of Stan Jacob was hired by the Crown Zellerbach corporation back in the 1970’s to figure out why their workers felt so good when they had their arms immersed in the sulfurous-smelling pulp process water at the CZ mills. Dr. Jacob convinced a fellow by the name of Robert Herschler to figure out what was going on. Herschler deduced that the process water contained DMSO and that when it was absorbed through the skin, it was converted to MSM. (Here’s a link to Herschler’s MSM patents in case you’re interested.)
I got a bee in my bonnet to talk to Dr. Jacob over at the Oregon Health Sciences Center in Portland, when I was a GP in Eastern Oregon and went over there one afternoon in 1997. Dr. Jacob was in his mid-60’s at that point and it turns out he had been drinking DMSO every day for years and thus exposing himself to copious amounts of MSM. For what it’s worth, he had amazingly soft, smooth, unblemished skin on his face, like the proverbial baby’s bottom. Coincidence? I think not.
Moving right along, for years, I said to my patients that there was an old adage in Chinese health wisdom saying that if there were any problems with the skin, look to the liver. I couldn’t find any references to indicate that this adage arose from anywhere in particular but it’s certainly an accepted concept, no matter where it came from. For example, this site: https://www.liverdoctor.com/your-skin-reflects-your-liver/ is a good overview. Since the liver is the body’s powerplant, it’s probably a good idea to be kind to your liver for many other reasons besides skin health.
An important point brought up on that site referenced above though, is the utility of Ig G food antibody testing to inform on skin health. Foods are thought to cause mischief by formation of antigen-antibody complexes when food constituents leak back into circulation due to increased gut permeability. These complexes can cause inflammation when they settle in capillary beds. Highly vascular tissues such as the skin are therefore susceptible to damage by this mechanism. The immune complexes are ultimately scavenged by the immune system and wind up being taken apart in the liver. An excess of food antigen-antibody complexes can burden the liver and prevent it from doing other jobs such as energy generation and detoxification. In my experience, identification and elimination of offending foods guided by IgG food antibody testing can often improve skin appearance and ameliorate mysterious, unexplained rashes.
Whew! I’ve covered a lot of ground at this point and left plenty of things unsaid. I didn’t even mention sunscreen! There are pros and cons to its use but that’s an entire post right there. I didn’t mention peptide therapy, or hydrogen gas inhalation, or hyaluronic acid but I think I have covered the basics on skin health with a few “secret weapons” thrown into the mix. You might as well stop reading though, since I’m going to stop writing.
In any event, your Integrative Health Practitioner can take it from here and work with you regarding all the things I’ve mentioned. They will be good for your skin but also good for you in general. Good for your bones, brain, arteries and so forth. If you follow all these suggestions, you will probably annoy the living daylights out of everyone around you but you will also most likely outlive them and look great in the process. You might even wind up making beaucoup bank in your new career as a Body Part Model!
Author: George Gillson, MD, PHD, CCFP
EvolveWell Medical Director
Araújo LA, Addor F, Campos PM. Use of silicon for skin and hair care: an approach of chemical forms available and efficacy. An Bras Dermatol. 2016 May-Jun;91(3):331-5. doi: 10.1590/abd1806-4841.20163986. PMID: 27438201; PMCID: PMC4938278.
Bissett DL, Oblong JE, Berge CA. Niacinamide: A B vitamin that improves aging facial skin appearance. Dermatol Surg. 2005 Jul;31(7 Pt 2):860-5; discussion 865. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.2005.31732. PMID: 16029679.
Martin KR. Silicon: the health benefits of a metalloid. Met Ions Life Sci. 2013;13:451-73. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-7500-8_14. PMID: 24470100.
Rondanelli M, Faliva MA, Peroni G, Gasparri C, Perna S, Riva A, Petrangolini G, Tartara A. Silicon: A neglected micronutrient essential for bone health. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2021 Jul;246(13):1500-1511. doi: 10.1177/1535370221997072. Epub 2021 Mar 9. PMID: 33715532; PMCID: PMC8283247.