Jeannette Graf MD

Dr. Graf is a Board Certified, Clinical and Research Dermatologist and author of the best-seller Stop Aging, Start Living. She is widely respected for her expertise and objectivity.

pH: The key link between naturally radiant skin and a healthy lifestyle

Much to our delight, we’ve heard more and more dermatologists talking about the skin-lifestyle link. We love finding kindred spirits! Leading skin science expert and former NIH fellow Jeannette Graf, MD is one of the pioneers of this movement. We talked to Dr. Graf to better understand the connection and to learn what steps we can all take for a glowier existence. Here, Dr. Graf tells us all about pH, the major link that she found between naturally radiant skin and a healthy lifestyle.

In a nutshell:
• All the peels, laser treatments, and Botox injections in the world can’t make you look truly radiant: you have to set the stage for healthy skin through the right diet and lifestyle
• pH is a simple and logical way to think about the way diet and lifestyle can affect your skin
• Our busy, stressful lives often lead us towards an unbalanced, more acidic pH that can accelerate aging and exacerbate skin conditions like acne
• In general, eating more alkalinizing foods – following a Mediterranean diet, for example – will bring your body, and your skin, back into healthy, radiant balance

Read on for the full story.

Ayla: What encouraged you to explore the connection between skin, diet, and lifestyle?
DR. GRAF: It became evident to me that a lot of patients – young women who were getting everything done to their skin in terms of prescriptions and procedures – were responding very well to the treatments, but still didn’t look good. They were thoroughly exhausted: their complexions somehow still looked dull. They didn’t look like those women I saw who were older but who were radiant. Sure, they had some wrinkles, they had some lines, but they were absolutely radiant.

So, I started asking these young women a lot of questions about lifestyle – what do you eat, what do you do for exercise every day? Well, some of them took what sounded like 16 aerobics classes and lived on diet Coke and chicken. And they looked like it! I was really curious and started asking a lot more questions about it. It was a natural direction for me to take; I’m very interested in nutrition and the effect that it has on the body. I’m a hunter of energy. I love energy – I like the way it feels.

Ayla: In your book, you mention that pH is a key link to naturally radiant skin. How did you determine that?
DR. GRAF: Two things prompted this.

At the time, there were tons of vitamin discoveries being made — every antioxidant was being looked at. For me, that was really exciting…but since there were so many of them, I was taking a different pill for every little thing, and I really didn’t feel good. It just gave me a stomachache! So I ended up saying to myself, “There has to be a better way.” Everyone has accepted the free radical theory as THE theory of aging and looks at antioxidants as THE answer. I thought there must be something else to it aside from antioxidants – we should be able to protect ourselves without having to take a thousand vitamins!

The other thing that prompted this is that I went on my first juice fast for 7 days. I was always interested in detoxification, but I realized I never felt so amazing as I did at the end of that 7-day juice fast. And I wanted to get that feeling back. I never wanted to feel exhausted and tired again.

So I started going through about a hundred years’ worth of research about the benefits of fruits and vegetables, and one study that focused on pH really struck me. In the 1920s, a German biochemist named Otto Warburg conducted an experiment where he grew cancer cells and healthy cells. He grew each type of cell in two environments: acidic (with a pH below 7) and alkaline (with a pH above 7). What he found was that cancer cells couldn’t survive in an alkaline environment, but they thrived in an acidic environment. And healthy cells thrived in an alkaline environment, but didn’t in an acidic environment. So it makes sense that, if we’re alkaline, our healthy cells will thrive. If we’re acidic, they won’t. It’s simple enough: if we create an alkaline environment in our bodies, everything will grow beautifully.

Antioxidants are important, but if pH is too low – if you have an acidic environment in your body – you can use hundreds of antioxidant supplements and still not be able to prevent a lot of free radical damage. Your own cells’ natural antioxidant enzymes are much more effective at neutralizing free radicals, so you need to create a favorable, pH-balanced environment inside your body for cells to produce their own antioxidant enzymes. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will help.

AYLA: What’s an easy way to understand how pH affects us?
DR. GRAF: I like to think about it this way: visualize a fish tank. If you have a fish tank and don’t balance the pH, it grows mold and junk in it. If you do balance the pH, the water will stay clear and the fish will stay healthy and, as a result, look great.

That’s what it’s like inside your body, which is made of roughly 70% water: the internal environment makes all the difference. Every part of your body contains fluids, and those fluids all have a specific pH. For optimal health, most of your body’s fluids, cells, and tissues need a slightly alkaline pH. A pH that’s too acidic will ultimately make your skin look dull, and it will accelerate aging in cells throughout your body.

A lot of us have internal environments that are too acidic. But the thing is, we heal. We repair ourselves. That’s the amazing thing about the human body. So it’s not too late to clean out the fish tank!

AYLA: What are the most common things that make our bodies acidic? 

DR. GRAF: Of the things I see most, I’d say:
• Stress
• Refined sugar
• Animal protein
• Processed foods
• Too much alcohol
• Too much coffee
• Cola drinks
• Cigarette smoke
• Overexercise

Now, it’s important to note that acid-producing foods are not all bad – for example, walnuts are an acid-producing food, and they offer many health benefits. In a perfect world, we’d want a 50/50 balance between acid and alkaline. But we’re bombarded by acids on any given day, so getting a 3 to 1 ratio of alkalinizing to acidifying foods will help counteract that.

AYLA: So, what are some good alkalinizing foods to eat more of?
DR. GRAF: Here are my favorites –
• Dark, leafy vegetables (particularly kale, collards, romaine, mesclun mix, endive, mustard greens, turnip greens, and dandelion greens)
• Most other organic vegetables (except corn, peas, string beans, and conventionally-grown carrots)
• Filtered water
• Garlic and onions
• Herbs and spices
• Fruit
• Nuts and seeds
• Oils: olive, flaxseed, avocado, coconut, macadamia
• Whole grains
• Sea salt
• Lemons and limes

Following a Mediterranean-type diet is the best way to get your body more alkaline – lots of greens, fiber, fruit, colorful foods, water. Lots and lots of water! You can squeeze a lemon or a lime into it to make it even more alkalinizing.

AYLA: Wait…aren’t lemons and limes acidic?
DR. GRAF: Some foods, like lemons and limes, are acidic-tasting, but alkalinizing inside the body. What determines whether it has an acid or alkalizing effect is the ash residue left behind after it’s digested, which takes into account all the components in each food – some of which are alkalinizing and some of which are acidifying. If you look at the ash left by lemon/lime, it’s an alkaline ash. If you look at the ash left by milk, which we often think of as a base or an alkaline food, it’s actually an acid ash. So, what you need to focus on is the effect the food has inside the body.

To learn more about Dr. Graf’s findings about pH and her suggestions for alkalinizing meals, read Part 2 of our interview and check out her book, Stop Aging, Start Living.

About Dr. Graf: Jeannette Graf, MD is a Board Certified, Clinical and Research Dermatologist with a private practice in Great Neck, New York. While at the NIH, Dr. Graf was one of the first doctors to work with peptides, earning a NIH patent in 1987. She continues to research innovative technologies and has been published in several scientific journals. Widely respected for her expertise and objectivity, she is regularly called upon to forecast on dermatology and cosmetic trends, and she’s a frequent guest on TV programs like The Early Show on CBS. Dr. Graf is also the author of the best-seller Stop Aging, Start Living. Learn more about Dr. Graf’s impressive background here.

Any topic discussed in this article is not intended as medical advice. If you have a medical concern, please check with your doctor.