Our skin contains natural moisturizing oils known as ceramides. When we are young, they keep the skin firm, moist, and wrinkle-free.
Unfortunately, with age, ceramide production declines and the result is dry, sagging skin and wrinkling. Pollution and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation accelerate this skin aging process.
Researchers have found ways to prevent and reverse some of this damage with oral ceramides and herbal extracts. Taken orally, these nutrients provide a strategic approach to rejuvenate skin and protect against environmental damage. Oral ceramides are derived from rice and boost production of ceramides in skin.
Ceramides are like the mortar that holds skin-cell bricks together. They are in a class of fatty acids called lipids. They are naturally found in skin cells and make up about 50 percent of the outer layer of skin (epidermis).
As internal ceramide production declines, there is a decrease in skin’s moisture barrier, resulting in thinning, wrinkles, dryness, roughness, and even increased risk of infection. Ceramides have been added to some skin creams since the early 1990s. But because topically applied ceramides do not reach deeper skin layers, their effects are generally modest.
To address this problem, scientists developed plant-derived ceramides, or phytoceramides, that can be taken orally. These lipids are thought to boost the production of ceramides in the skin.
Researchers have now achieved clinical success by using ceramides from a non-genetically modified rice extract that is gluten- and allergen-free. Taken orally, these rice-derived phytoceramides work from the inside out to hydrate, smooth, and rejuvenate skin all over the body. Check out Living Extension’s Skin Restoring Ceramides.
When it comes to ceramides, not all product packaging is created equal. Look for products in opaque, airtight bottles and tubes. Jars and similar packaging expose the bulk of the product to light and air with each use. This exposure may render the product ineffective over time.
Also pay attention to product expiration dates.
If you’re looking for a cream to heal dry, irritated skin, look for one that has ceramides 1, 3, or 6-II. Ceramides 2 and 3 are widely used in products designed for the face and the neck.
Ceramide may also appear in products as sphingosine. This is an amino acid chain that includes ceramide as one of its molecules.
Scientists tested the effect of rice-derived ceramides on skin barrier function, the ability to retain moisture, and protect against external threats. They enlisted 123 healthy volunteers with dry skin. Every day for 12 weeks, subjects took either rice extract providing ceramides or a placebo. Investigators measured water loss that occurs when water passes from the skin’s middle layer to the outer layer and evaporates. This test is used as a measure of the skin’s barrier function.
In as few as four weeks, subjects taking the rice extract had significant reduction in water loss through the skin in nearly all body areas, compared to those taking a placebo. A second clinical trial was conducted on patients (mean age: 30.5 years) with mild atopic dermatitis, or eczema. This skin disease is characterized by impaired skin barrier function and a reduction in ceramide content, and leads to patches of itchy, dry skin. Every day for four weeks, the treatment group took a rice extract providing ceramides. The placebo group had significant water loss over the course of the study, resulting in decreased water content in the outer layer of the skin. Those supplementing with the rice extract reduced their water loss by more than 30% compared to the placebo group. This was seen in visual improvements to skin appearance.
The only “natural” ceramides are the ones already in your skin. The ceramides in most skin care products are synthetically made. This doesn’t make much of a difference in terms of quality or efficacy. As long as ceramides are replenished, your skin can benefit.
If you’re looking for a more “natural” way to induce ceramide production in your skin, consider adding healthy fats to your diet. Ceramides may also be found in:
- sweet potatoes
Age isn’t the only factor driving skin damage.
External factors like environmental pollutants and UV radiation from the sun can degrade the skin’s structural integrity, reducing skin firmness and elasticity. That leads to wrinkling and fine lines. In addition to inducing oxidative stress and inflammation, pollutants cause over-expression of the protein aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR).
AhR overactivation increases the expression of genes responsible for oxidative stress, inflammation, immunosuppression, pigmentation, skin cancer, and premature skin aging. Researchers have identified four herbal extracts that, when taken orally, protect against the damaging effects of pollution and UV exposure as follows:
- Olive leaf
- Lippia citriodora (lemon verbena) leaf
- Sophora japonica (Japanese pagoda tree) leaf
These extracts have been shown in a clinical study to improve skin health and deliver substantial protection against pollutants and UV radiation. In a clinical trial, 96% of participants taking the herbal extracts had a significant reduction in wrinkle depth. Try Daily Skin Defense from Life Extensions.
In vitro studies show that the extracts inhibit the over-activation of the AhR receptor that causes premature skin aging and other skin-damaging effects.
The abilities of rice ceramides and this herbal blend to block and even reverse skin aging has been validated in human trials.
Researchers tested the effectiveness of this blend of herbal extracts in guarding against environmental pollutants. They enlisted 100 women (aged 35-65 years), half of whom had sensitive skin. The treatment group took 250 mg of the blend orally for 12 weeks. The researchers measured an exhaustive list of factors, such as skin moisture, radiance, and smoothness to evaluate the overall look and health of skin.
More than 90% of treated volunteers had significant improvement in all of the measures. The herbal blend smoothed and softened skin, significantly reduced wrinkle depth, and improved skin elasticity and firmness, beginning in just 15 days.
Compared to a placebo, after 12 weeks of treatment, the group taking the herbal extracts had:
- A 10-fold greater decrease in wrinkle depth,
- A 3-fold improvement in skin moisture,
- 5 times the skin brightness or radiance,
- 2.5 times more lightening of dark spots,
- A nearly 5-fold reduction in water loss, and
- An 18-fold greater increase in skin smoothness.
These improvements in skin appearance are likely due to the reduction in water loss, which indicates a clear improvement in the skin barrier function. A strengthened barrier function means pollutants are less able to penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin to cause damage.
Lab studies show that this blend completely inhibits the pollution-induced increase in the expression of the AhR receptor, which can cause pigmented spots, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
Vitamin C offers additional benefits for skin health. In studies, vitamin C has been shown to:
- Promote formation of collagen, the skin’s main structural protein,
- Reduce DNA damage in the skin,
- Scavenge harmful free radicals, including oxidants from UV radiation,
- Improve skin antioxidant activity in just two weeks, and
- Inhibit melanin production, reducing the appearance of dark spots.
- gastroprotective (protects digestive system)
- neuroprotective (protects central nervous system)
- antimicrobial (inhibits microorganism growth)
- anticancer (reduces risk of cancer)
- anti-inflammatory (reduces risk of inflammation)
- antinociceptive (reduces pain stimuli)
- antioxidant (prevents oxidation or cell damage)
These properties mean that olive leaf extract may help with weight loss, heart health, and herpes breakouts.
To treat herpes with olive leaf extract, drop 1 to 2 droplets on a cotton ball and place on the sore. One study found that olive leaf extract’s antiviral and antimicrobial factors reduce the ability of the herpes virus to invade surrounding cells.
Oleuropein is also shown to have a protection against Alzheimer’s disease. The antioxidant effects of olive leaf extract may also help with preventing damage or loss of dopamine neurons that’s associated with Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers believe olive leaf extract can have positive effects on atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, which is the highest risk factor for heart disease. High levels of LDL and total cholesterol are risk factors for developing this disease. One animal study from 2015 assessed the effects of olive leaf extract on cholesterol levels. Rats who took the extract for eight weeks had significantly decreased cholesterol levels.
Olive leaf extract may help lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. A 2017 study found that olive leaf extract successfully lowered blood pressure. A lower blood pressure can reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack.
A review of olive leaf extract and type 2 diabetes found that olive leaf oil extract can help improve insulin secretion in cells. Animal studies have shown that olive leaf extract may:
- reduce hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
- reduce hyperinsulinemia (too much insulin in the blood)
- reduce blood glucose, plasma malondialdehyde, and other signs of oxidative stress (an imbalance of free radicals that can harm the body)
- reduce cholesterol
- decrease serum glucose
- increase serum insulin
One human study found that people who took olive leaf extract tablets lowered their average blood sugar level and fasting plasma insulin levels.
An animal study from 2014 researched the effect of olive leaf extract in preventing high-fat, diet-induced obesity. It’s thought that olive leaf extract prevents obesity by regulating the expression of genes that affect weight gain. It can also aid in reducing food intake.
In one cell study, olive leaf extracts were shown to stop cancerous cell growth. Researchers suggest that the extract has strong antioxidant properties, but this is also one of the first studies on olive leaf extracts and their anticancer effects.
Agencies like the Food and Drug Administration don’t regulate nutritional supplements like olive leaf extract. Because olive leaves have been an important part of the Mediterranean diet for centuries, the extract is considered safe for most people.
It’s possible to develop severe respiratory allergic reactions. Some people are allergic to the pollen produced by olive trees and may have an allergic reaction.
Olive leaf extract may lower your blood pressure and blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes or are taking medications to manage your blood sugar or blood pressure, talk to your doctor before taking olive leaf extract.
How to Buy
You can buy olive leaf extract as a supplement, tincture, or tea. There are no official dosing recommendation, but studies indicate its health-boosting effects occur when taking 500 to 1,000 milligrams daily. Carefully read and follow all of the directions that come with your chosen brand of olive leaf extract. Strength and dosages may vary between manufacturers.
These are two manufacturers of olive leaf that I have use:
How to Store
Store all supplements in a cool, dry environment.
How to Cook
Add olives to your diet! Oleuropein gives them their distinct flavor.
Cookie and Kate
- 1 large or 2 smallish eggplants (about 1 ¾ pounds), cut into 1-inch cubes
- ½ teaspoon fine salt, divided, to taste
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 can (14 ounces) crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
- ¼ cup pitted green olives (ideally Castelvetrano), roughly chopped
- ¼ cup raisins, red or golden
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar, to taste
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 1 tablespoon sugar, to taste
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint, flat-leaf parsley and/or basil
- Make crostini with Schär, Gluten-Free Baguette, optional, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 425 °F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper to prevent the eggplant from sticking to it.
- Place the cubed eggplant on the prepared pan. Sprinkle it with ¼ teaspoon of the salt, drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil, and promptly toss to coat (some of the eggplant pieces will be more saturated with oil than the others, and that’s ok). Roast the eggplant in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring halfway, until deeply golden.
- In the meantime, warm the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a medium Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and celery. Season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and about 10 twists of black pepper. Cook until the onions are tender and just starting to turn golden, about 9 to 12 minutes, stirring often.
- Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. Add the olives, raisins, vinegar, capers, sugar, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Stir to combine. Simmer on medium-low heat for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
- Remove and discard the bay leaf. Stir in the roasted eggplant and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in most of the fresh herbs, reserving a small handful for garnish. Remove the pot from the heat.
- Adjust to taste to find your desired balance of tangy-sweet-spicy-salty. Add more vinegar (by the tablespoon), sugar (by the 1/4 teaspoon), red pepper flakes, and/or salt. Transfer it to a serving bowl and top with the remaining herbs.
- For best flavor, allow the caponata to rest at room temperature for an hour, or longer in the refrigerator. Serve warm or at room temperature (some even enjoy it chilled). Caponata will keep for about 5 days, covered, in the fridge.
Aside from the eggplant and tomatoes, the vegetables here are flexible. You could add an extra bell pepper or omit the bell pepper entirely. You could add some carrot or zucchini or yellow squash. If you don’t like raisins, leave them out. Try pine nuts sprinkled on top.