I am thrilled to once again feature Laura Tarbell as a fit mom guest blogger. Laura is a lucky mom to two sets of twins. She owns Tarbell Pilates Studio in Hogansburg, NY, is a model and ‘Pilates expert’ for Oxygen Magazine. As a Pilates instructor, personal trainer, and nutrition and wellness counselor, Laura shares her story to influence others to become more healthy. You can read more about Laura at her blog. I am so excited that Laura wrote about the topic of stretch marks. It is a topic that I have not written about, but I have certainly worried about … especially since this is my second pregnancy, and I have heard that I could get larger than the first pregnancy. So, how can you and I prevent stretch marks? Read more.
Halfway through my second twin pregnancy, people started to comment on how much I was growing. This really struck a chord for me and soon the threat of stretch marks became an obsession. I talked to a lot of women who got stretch marks during their second pregnancy, not the first. I understood how much harder it was to eat healthy and find the time to exercise while caring for another child, or two!, during a second pregnancy, but I was determined not to let that be an excuse. I wasn’t really worried about weight gain, I knew I could lose the weight with some hard work and will power, but stretch marks don’t go away very easily, if at all, and that made me nervous. So I researched possible ways to prevent stretch marks, and I focused on those during these last 4 months of my pregnancy. Not all pregnant women get stretch marks, so there had to be something more to it than just being pregnant. Let’s start off by tackling some technical information so you have a better understanding of how stretch marks relate to pregnancy.
What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks, or striae, are a consequence of stretching skin, especially repeated stretching of the skin. Statistically, stretch marks effect between 70% and 90% of pregnant women. They are said to be the result of disrupted hormones and nutrient deficiencies. However, nature designed us well. So hopefully, as long as we follow nature’s prescription, stretch marks won’t leave their mark…Hopefully!
Stretch marks form on the dermis layer of the skin, located just underneath the outer layer called the epidermis. When the skin stretches, the connective tissues in the dermis layer can become compromised leading to blood vessel dilation (these are the early stage red or purplish lines). Later, as the body tries to heal itself from these breaks, cells begin to divide to fill in the gap. If the damage is deep enough, the cells produce a scar to heal the wound. In the case of stretch marks, melanin production ceases and the skin is left with white hypopigmented scars.
Causes of Stretch Marks
Stretch marks are caused by a degradation of the connective tissue of the dermal layer of the skin. Stretching, combined with other factors which weaken this layer, causes the scars we refer to as stretch marks.
Stretching alone, however, is not enough to cause stretch marks. The skin is designed to stretch. Men and women all over the world experience skin stretching but not all experience stretch marks. The current focus of prevention is on hormones and collagen.
Collagen is the most extensive structural protein in the body. Collagen and elastin make up about 90% of the skin’s thickness. These fibers form an elastic weave over our entire bodies allowing the skin to be stretched substantially without compromising its integrity.
Skin is like a rubber band. As long as the rubber is in good condition, the rubber band will not show any marks from stretching, even when stretched to its limit. However, when that rubber band gets old and /or its fibers become dry, even when you stretch it just a bit, it cracks and breaks appear. The same holds true for skin. When the skin is healthy, it will stretch with no signs of having been stretched.
The skin is a little more sophisticated however than a rubber band in that a rubber band’s elasticity has a limit. A rubber band will never be able to stretch further than it was designed to stretch. The skin on the other hand can make new collagen to strengthen its connective tissues, enabling it to stretch more and more over time. The skin can do this as long as it has the building blocks it needs to make new elastic fibers.
Under certain conditions such as a hormone imbalance from pregnancy and nutritional deficiencies, the body may not produce sufficient amounts of collagen and elastin. Like a rubber band, when these protein fibers are not reinforced to withstand the rapid and extensive stretching, the connective tissues break apart from the bottom up, tearing the skin and leaving a scar.
HOW CAN I PREVENT STRETCH MARKS?
Hydration from the inside and outside.
Everyone knows it is important to keep the skin moisturized. Topically, http://www.Americanpregnancy.com recommends using Bio Oil on the skin twice a day. My fitness coaches recommend coconut oil (both applied topically and taken internally). I started rotating these two products three times a day. With twins, I wanted to be extra careful! I also read about the benefits of olive oil as it contains a substance called squalene, which is a chemical similar to sebum that acts as a softener and an antioxidant.
Another essential, and often underestimated, component of prevention is the power of hydration from the inside. Since stretch marks do not occur on the outer layer of skin but on the second, underlying layer, what we put into our bodies could be almost more important that what we put on our bodies. It is recommended that we drink six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water every day. I, however, drank at least 3 liters a day, and often tried for 4! By the way, coffee, tea, and caffeinated soda do not count! Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it makes you urinate, causing you to lose hydration. Again, this can make the skin less elastic and dry (think of that old rubber band!).
PROLINE AND LYSINE – Collagen fibers themselves are made from protein, particularly hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline. Hence, eating foods high in lysine and proline may be beneficial for collagen production, although there have not been studies to confirm this theory. These are primarily found in animal protein. Egg whites are particularly high in proline.
VITAMIN C – In order for the body to synthesize protein, it needs vitamin C. Vitamin C is mainly found in all citrus fruits and in red peppers, among many other fruits and vegetables.
PHYTONUTRIENTS– Other nutrients which promote healthy collagen are the phytonutrients catechins and anthocyanidins. Catechins help prevent the breakdown of collagen while anthocyanidins help the fibers link together. Green tea is high in catechins and deeply pigmented fruits such as cherries and blueberries are high in anthocyanidins.
ZINC – Zinc works with proteins in the body to regenerate tissue by increasing the synthesis of new collagen. It is essential for connective tissue health. The best food source of zinc is oysters but other sources include chicken, beans, nuts, and other lean meat.
GOOD FATS – Essential Fatty Acids, or EFA’s, reduce inflammation. As the skin stretches, it is stressed. Keeping the skin pliable and reducing inflammation both prevent stretch marks. Sources of EFA’s include tuna, salmon and sardines (wild only, not farmed), fish oils (cod liver oil), flax and chia seed (if you buy pre-ground it is often rancid- buy whole and grind yourself), wheat germ, nuts and nut oils (walnuts are the best), and leafy greens (plus spinach). Dietary fat plays a big role in the integrity of every cell. Fats carry the important skin nutrients vitamins A, D, and E. Saturated fats provide the building blocks for hormones. They are also important for mineral absorption. These fats are found in animal proteins.
VITAMIN A – The application of vitamin A to the skin has been found to increase collagen synthesis. Eating Vitamin A is essential for the repair of skin tissue. Foods high in vitamin A include carrots and sweet potatoes, among other orange veggies.
VITAMIN E – Vitamin E strengthens the skin’s elasticity. Foods rich in E are blueberries, avocados, mangoes, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and certain oils.
B VITAMINS – Biotin is a building block of skin cells. Eggs, bananas, and rice are such foods. Niacin is a B vitamin that enables the skin to keep moisture. Poultry, fish, beef, nuts and seeds are high in niacin.
COPPER – Copper helps produce elastin. Cashews, brazil nuts, poppy and sunflower seeds are excellent sources of copper. So are cereal, meats and fish.
There are many natural remedies to improve circulation. Some helpful herbs and habits include:
- Dry skin brushing
- Herbs such as Ginko Biloba and calendula
- Cayenne pepper, ginger, and garlic
- Avoid cigarettes ad they impair blood flow
In the fight to maintain skin’s beauty, water and all the right nutrients are essential. The answer seems to be simple: internal moisturizing is just as important as any topical oil or cream. There are so many healthy foods to eat in the list above that there isn’t room for any junk!
Stretch marks form from the inside out. Remember, you are what you eat!! Hydrate and nourish the body with water and whole foods. Get rid of junk foods and dehydrating liquids. I know it’s easier said than done. It’s often hard to say no to little goodies and treats, especially when everyone says, “Common on, your pregnant!” But in the end, your beautiful skin is worth it.