Although long-term sun exposure makes skin more fragile and prone to bruising, we can't blame it all on the Florida sun. The tendency to bruise easily increases with age, when collagen breaks down and our capillaries, the small blood vessels beneath the surface of the skin, grow weaker.
Bruises not caused by injury may be a side effect of prescription medications, anti-coagulants, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, anti-inflammatories, asthma medications or penicillin.
Heavy smokers, drug abusers and alcoholics often have bruising problems, along with nutritional deficiencies. Frequent, unexplained bruising may be related to underlying health disorders and may require medical attention.
Even a minor deficiency of vitamin C can lead to increased bruising: capillaries break, wounds heal slowly and gums bleed.
Blood leaks into the surrounding skin to create your own black-and-blue "tattoo." Vitamin C speeds up healing and increases the production of collagen and elastin for better tissue repair. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables can improve vitamin C intake.
When buying supplements, look for the combinations of vitamin C with bioflavonoids, known as vitamin C complex. Adding bioflavonoids to vitamin C improves its absorption and increases its effectiveness.
Bioflavonoids, vitamin-like substances found in the skin of citrus fruit, support tissue repair and strengthen weak capillaries.
In her classic book, "Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit," nutritionist Adelle Davis wrote: "A bruise shows brittleness and loss of elasticity in the blood vessel walls; it is usually the first visual evidence of a vitamin C deficiency, especially in women and children."
"Pink toothbrush," caused by bleeding gums when brushing, may be the first symptom in men, who bruise infrequently because their muscles are generally harder than women's.
Bruises and bleeding gums are both important danger signals. When adequate vitamin C is added to the diet, the capillary walls may become strong within 24 hours.
In his newsletter, "Self Healing," physician Andrew Weil discussed easy bruising:
"Frequent bruising may result from taking certain blood-thinning dietary supplements, such as fish oil and vitamin E, as well as ginkgo biloba, ginger (dietary ginger and garlic are fine) and some medications, such as Coumadin and cortisone. If you're taking a full-dose aspirin every day for prevention, I suggest you first switch to a low-dose or 'baby' aspirin to see whether this makes a difference and, if not, you might also need to experiment with reducing your dose of vitamin E and omega 3s."
A tendency to bruise too easily also seems to run in families, is more noticeable on fair skin and is more common in women, who naturally have thinner skin than men.
"Other reasons for frequent bruising may be diseases of the bone marrow or blood, liver disease or a deficiency in vitamin C or F," wrote Dr. Weil, director of a program in integrative medicine and clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Vitamin F is another name for essential fatty acids, which must be supplied through the diet or supplements such as fish oils, flaxseeds and evening primrose oil. A low-or no-fat diet will eventually lead to dry or easily damaged skin, along with a host of other health problems.
Bruising, swelling and discoloration after cosmetic surgery may be reduced or avoided with a protective vitamin C complex, the mineral zinc, homeopathic arnica Montana, grape seed extract and bromelain (anti-inflammatory enzyme).
Topically, arnica gel, aloe vera and squalane speed recovery, and may also help reduce age spots.
Whatever the cause, bruising is never pretty. It's a call for help.
The information in this article is for educational purposes. Consult your physician if you have a medical condition.
Margot Bennett is a licensed nutritionist at Mother Nature's Pantry, located in the Garden Square Shoppes, 4513 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. Call her at (561) 626-4461.