Oysters have been part of the human diet since before we were fully human. In 2000 an international team of geologists working in East Africa discovered the remains of oysters said to be over 125,000 years old.
The scientists unearthed a treasure trove of stone tools like two-sided stone hand axes and flaked obsidian blades – all found at the same site as fossilised remains of oyster, crabs, and shrimp. The scientists dubbed the discovery “the world’s first oyster bar”.
In relatively more recent history, Ancient Greeks used to serve oysters in wine and the Chinese used their crushed shells in medicines. The Romans were obsessed with oysters and imported them from all over the Mediterranean and European coastline, and King Henry IV of England used to stuff down 300 oysters as a mere appetiser.
Throughout that time oysters have been most revered as an aphrodisiac, not a remedy for skin ailments. But if only one food on earth could be branded a silver bullet against acne, I’d have to pick oysters. You see, oysters are by far the world’s richest source of zinc, the single most important mineral for clearing acne.
The best source of zinc in the world
In general, animal foods are the greatest sources of zinc. Am 8oz lamb steak contains 72% of the RDA and three boiled eggs contains 12%. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds also contain decent amounts of zinc although the bioavailability is not as high due to the phytic acid content. Other shellfish are fairly high in zinc: 100 grams of crab contains 24% and shrimp contains 10%.
However, all those foods pale in comparison to the oyster. Per weight an oyster has over six times more zinc than any other proper food. The recommended daily allowance of zinc for both men and adults is 15mg. For acne clearing purposes I recommend getting roughly 30mg per day. Here are the 5 richest food sources of zinc, per 200 calorie serving, on the planet:
Eastern oysters – 91mg.
Enriched bran flake cereal – 64mg.
Soy protein isolate – 60mg.
Multi-Grain Cheerios – 52mg.
Total Corn Flakes – 50mg
As you can see, the next best four zinc sources are all breakfast cereals, and the next five are as well. Not only do oysters beat them by a long shot for zinc content, but the zinc in the cereals will have a lower bioavailability due to, firstly, the zinc being a mineral added for required dietary fortification and probably the cheapest and poorest absorbed one the manufacturer could find.
Secondly, the original zinc in the cereals will be bound with phytic acid. In my eBook Annihilate Your Acne we discussed how grain-based foods such as cereals may contain minerals like magnesium, but are useless because you cannot absorb them. Furthermore, cereals are destructive to your gut lining and are a serious inflammatory villain behind acne which you need to avoid.
The next best source of zinc after the breakfast cereals is mineral fortified peanut butter, with 15mg. Then, beginning at 13mg and lower, you get the seeds and meats.
The fact is that oysters reign supreme when it comes to zinc and they’re so untouchable that if they could they’d be laughing about it. But why is zinc so great anyway?
In short, it’s the number one mineral for acne and this has been confirmed by several direct studies. One study gathered 332 acne patients and gave them a daily supplement of 30mg of zinc gluconate. After three months, the improvement was enormous; the average total pimple count had fallen by 49.8%. 31.2% of the patients had a reduction in acne of over two thirds or more.
A smaller study on 54 acne patients fed them either a daily zinc supplement or a placebo. After six weeks, the average amount of acne in the zinc group had fallen by 33%.
Finally, a Turkish study gathered 87 volunteers: 47 with acne and 40 without it. The two groups were divided and their blood zinc levels were tested. The scientists discovered that zinc deficiency was far more common in the acne group; 54.1% of acne patients had a deficiency compared to only 10% in the group without acne. The average zinc level was also substantially lower in the blood of acne patients. The scientists concluded: “we believe that… prescribing zinc supplement treatments for patients with low serum zinc levels may help increasing the success rate of acne treatment”.
Unlike vitamin A, which mainly acts by reducing sebum production, zinc can clear your skin in a myriad of ways. Zinc can…
- Lower chronic inflammation. Zinc is known for preventing colds, but it also lowers overall immune system-induced bodily inflammation by increasing the immune system’s efficiency. Zinc keeps inflammation on a leash and hence prevents immune assaults on bacteria like p.acnes from becoming unnecessarily powerful (study). This study found that zinc can downregulate levels of NF-KappaB, an inflammatory switch which controls the release of many pro-inflammatory chemicals behind acne.
- Increase antioxidant levels. It is often said that zinc is a “powerful antioxidant”, but that’s misleading; zinc is actually a main ingredient in glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant which humans manufacture themselves.
- Enhancing vitamin A. Zinc is needed to manufacture retinol-binding protein, which carries all vitamin A through the bloodstream and to the skin where it’s needed. More zinc hence equals less sebum and controlled keratin.
- Much more. There’s evidence that zinc can control stress hormone levels in humans, it could combat depression by providing the ingredients for serotonin (hence lowering stress hormones further), and zinc is known to accelerate wound healing.
The massive zinc content of oysters can be seen in their storied reputation as an aphrodisiac. Testosterone is the single most important hormone for sexual desire, libido, and health in general. Zinc is the best studied mineral for boosting testosterone and is often taken by bodybuilders for that purpose, and by older men looking to boost sexual function.
Meanwhile, Casanova, the famous lady’s man of the 1700s, was reported to eat 50 oysters for his breakfast. The aphrodisiac powers of oysters are real and zinc is the main player.
Oysters are bursting with selenium too
Zinc isn’t the only mineral for which oysters are a stellar source. 100 grams of oysters contains 63.7mg of selenium, or 91% of the RDA. That’s again one of the best food sources.
Seafood such as salmon, shrimp, and crab is generally stronger than meat for selenium and oysters are one of the better sources. They pale compared to 6 Brazil nuts with 774% of the RDA, but still, a meal of oysters can supply your entire daily allowance. Selenium is another important mineral for acne, with one standout quality: it is the main ingredient of the antioxidant glutathione. Many types of glutathione like GSH1 and GSH2 depend on selenium for their existence. Selenium has also been directly shown in studies to help acne.
Oysters are also a good source of a mineral which is challenging to get enough of: magnesium.
Since the early 1900s, a whirlwind of factors have come together to rob magnesium from the diet of humans worldwide. Firstly, endless farming has robbed magnesium from the soils, so there simply isn’t as much left to be taken up into fruits and vegetables through their roots.
Secondly, farmers have become very depend on synthetic phosphorous fertilisers, rather than organic compost composed from a variety of plants and hence containing a variety of nutrition. The quantity of phosphorous in fruits and vegetables has increased but that of every other mineral has declined and magnesium has been the most severe. It’s that estimated that the magnesium content of collard greens has fallen by over 80% over the last few decades (from 57mg to 9mg).
Therefore, even a moderately good source of magnesium is useful today, and that’s what oysters deliver. 100 grams contain 14% of the daily magnesium requirement.
Magnesium does not affect acne directly, but it plays an extremely important role in several of the conditions that are notorious for causing it. Firstly, magnesium is needed to manufacture neurotransmitters such as melatonin that are needed for efficient sleep; sleep deprivation is a massive cause of acne. Secondly, magnesium regulates cellular signalling across the entire body and is thus needed for proper insulin sensitivity, and hence keeping insulin levels down.
Finally, magnesium is another ingredient of glutathione. In fact, zinc, selenium and magnesium are all ingredients of glutathione. That makes oysters a stellar food for boosting glutathione and hence overall antioxidant levels, despite their ORAC score being nominally close to zero.
Oysters are also a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, which function similarly to zinc by constraining the entire immune system. Furthermore, they’re in the well absorbed EPA/DHA form and there are nearly no omega 6s to counteract their benefits.
Oysters also contain a small amount of vitamin A – 6% of the daily allowance. However, this is a clear underestimate compared to say, a carrot, because the vitamin A is in retinol form, which is easier utilised by humans then the plant form, beta-carotene. Additionally, the massive zinc content of oysters will amplify the benefits from vitamin A massively by increasing retinol binding protein levels, hence making oysters an excellent food for vitamin A.
Watch out for raw oysters!
You’ve probably heard the stories about deadly bacteria and viruses lurking in the shells of oysters and unfortunately, those stories have some truth to them.
A lot of people love the silky, slimy texture of a raw oyster and like to suck them straight out of the shell. Casanova was one such man as in his seduction games he reportedly liked to place a raw oyster in his woman’s mouth and suck it out the shell directly through her lips. Many gourmet chefs refuse to cook oysters at all.
Apparently you’re 100 times more likely to find a pearl in an oyster than get food poisoning. Nevertheless, some oysters contain a bacterium called Vibrio vulnificus, which occurs naturally in warm seawaters and, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, is the main cause of death related to eating seafood in the United States.
For people with a weak immune system, V. vulnificus can cause severe symptoms such as chills, fever, septic shock and, in bad news for acne patients, blistering skin lesions. In fact, those with an especially compromised immune system have a 50% chance of dying from v. vulnificus, which can occur within just two days.
Between 1989 and 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recorded 282 serious illnesses associated with consumption of raw oysters and clams containing the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, thus averaging about 25 a year. V. vulnificus is safer in healthy people but nevertheless, half of the cases recorded by the FDA resulted in death. Among the unhealthy, v. vulnificus is more dangerous than salmonella, with an apparent mortality rate of 40%.
Because many US oysters are sourced from the Gulf of Mexico, many assume that v. vulnificus contamination is a result of pollution, but that’s false. Vibrio vulnificus can be found in many waters approved for oyster and clam harvesting since it grows naturally in warm waters. V. vulnificus cannot be spotted with a quality assessment; your nose can’t smell the disease like it could with rancid milk. V. vulnificus does not affect the appearance, taste, or odour of oysters or other seafood.
The danger continues today; in the summer of 2013, the number of reported v. vulnificus poisonings in Washington state, Connecticut, and Massachusetts doubled compared to 2012. There were 113 instances of poisoning that summer. The authorities in Connecticut and Massachusetts responded by shutting down some of the active commercial oysters beds in their states, with authorities in Virginia, New York and New Jersey following suit.
The threat remains real. Generally, oysters from the Gulf of Mexico are safer because v. vulnificus grows in warmer waters, but raw oysters are risky everywhere.
A guide to safely eating oysters
I don’t want to sound like a healthy and safety mad, take no risks obsessive here, but nevertheless, cooking oysters is easily the smartest idea, unless you are willing to take the risk. Cooking is the only effective way to neutralise any bacteria lurking in oyster shells. The good news is that unlike with potatoes or broccoli or kale, cooking oysters will barely affect the nutritional quality because minerals such as zinc and selenium do not degrade with heat.
Hence, some cooking strategies for shucked oysters are as follows…
- Boil or Simmer for 3 minutes plus.
- Fry at 375 degrees F for 3 minutes plus.
- Broil 3 inches from heat for 3 minutes.
- Bake at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes
For shelled oysters, use these strategies…
- Cook live oysters in small pots in order to cook the middle thoroughly.
- Steaming: In an already steaming pot, cook live oysters for another 5 to 9 minutes.
- Boiling: After the shells open, boil live oysters for another 3 to 5 minutes.
If you really love raw oysters, then the shellfish industry is also working on various methods of wiping out v. vulnificus completely such as Post Harvest Processed (PHP) oysters. These shellfish have been frozen in special ways designed to give them lower levels of the bacteria when eaten raw.
However, oyster experts claim that they lack the traditionally silky texture of completely raw ones. If you’re an oyster maniac who wants the full raw experience, then your best option is to take your health to the max. V. vulnificusis is primarily a danger to people who already have weakened immune systems. Healthy people can usually battle away the infection within a couple days with only minor symptoms.
As for the source, a reputable fishmonger is always superior. If you want them raw, then visit a restaurant known for serving top quality raw oysters. Again, oysters from cold waters such as Alaska are safer than those from warm waters like the Gulf of Mexico, but they too can contain v, vulnificus. You can get canned oysters but they often contain a carrier oil like sunflower oil which is too high in omega 6 fatty acids, which cause acne via inflammation when consumed in excess. Fresh oysters are optimal, but frozen oysters are fine as well, since they can be stored for longer.
Like all seafood, many worry about contamination with the heavy metal mercury, which is a toxic pollutant ruining on of the world’s most acne-friendly food sources. Luckily, oysters are low on the food chain and don’t contain much mercury, and they have enough selenium to bind to the mercury and render it harmless in the body.
As with any fish, there are concerns about hunting it to extinction, but a large proportion of oysters are farmed and have no such problems. Oyster farms do not leak toxic chemicals and pollutants like salmon farms. In fact, oysters help to clean up the ocean by removing bacteria and sediments from the water, making the environment safer for other fish. Farmed oysters are not fed an unnatural diet of soy and corn, they are happy to attach to manmade farm frames in the ocean and continue to eat their usual flora from the ocean around them. They don’t live in fish prison swimming around in a confined space with tons of other fish.
If you’re a dietary purist who wants to get all his or her nutrients through food, then the solution to your acne-clearing zinc requirements is clearly oysters.
Oysters actually contain so much zinc that you could overdose (and develop hair loss, blotchy sin, nausea, etc.) if you weren’t careful. The RDA is 15mg and they contain 91mg per 100 grams. I recommend 30mg of zinc per day to clear acne. Therefore, a smart idea is to eat a meal of oysters once a week, and continue to eat more low level zinc sources daily such as meat, eggs, and other fish.
Finally, oysters are also a terrific food if you’re an athlete or bodybuilder, since their massive zinc content is terrific for boosting testosterone levels. This will also aid sexual function if that’s what you’re looking for, and furthermore, there are other compounds in oysters that bolster its famous aphrodisiac qualities.
A recent study found that oysters contain relatively rare, hormone inducing amino acids called D-aspartic acid (D-Asp) and N-methyl-D-aspartate. Apparently, previous studies had found that injecting those amino acids into rats had spiked their testosterone levels significantly.
So if you’re looking to become a lady’s man like Casanova then follow his lead with the oysters, and the clear skin will only be a bonus.
Thanks for reading!