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Health News 12 - Skin, Sunburn
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Beta-Carotene Supplements May Protect Skin from Sunburn

The April 2003 issue of Journal of Nutrition reported that several studies have found that supplemental beta-carotene can reduce susceptibility to sunburn. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant carotenoid found in vegetables and fruits.  Beta-carotene likely quenches free radicals, which can promote the inflammation and skin cell damage characteristic of sunburn.

Study Procedures
In a 12-week study of 36 patients, researchers asked 12 young and middle-aged subjects to take 24 mg of beta-carotene from a natural source of Dunaliella salina algae, daily. Another 12 subjects took a mixed-carotenoid supplement containing 8 mg each of natural beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene per day. A third group of 12 subjects took a placebo. The subjects' sensitivity to UV-simulated sunburn (erythema) on their backs was measured three times: at the beginning of the study, after six weeks, and at the end of the study. Carotenoid levels in serum and skin also were measured.

Research Findings
After three months of supplementation with either of the carotenoid supplements, the degree of sunburn was significantly less than the subjects had experienced at the beginning of the study. Both carotenoid supplements provided comparable sunburn protection. Serum and skin levels of carotenoids significantly increased after 6 and 12 weeks of supplementation.  No changes occurred in subjects taking the placebo.

Beta Carotene Study Conclusions 
This study found that either a natural beta-carotene or mixed-carotenoid supplement (typical of the mix of carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables) provides similar protection against sunburn. The researchers concluded that "The extent of sunburn protection with ingested carotenoids is not comparable to the use of a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor. However, increasing the basal sunburn protection systematically contributes to the permanent defense against UV light-mediated sunburn skin damage."

Heinrich U, Gaertner C, Wiebusch M, et al, "Supplementation with beta-carotene or a similar amount of mixed carotenoids protects humans from UV-induced erythema," Journal of Nutrition, 2003;133(1):98-101.

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Green Tea Compound Renews Skin Cells

In a study published February 2003 online in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, researchers from the Medical College of Georgia have discovered yet another health benefit for green tea. Green tea exhibits the ability to heal wounds and skin diseases. The research team, led by cell biologist Dr Stephen Hsu, studied the effect of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), the most abundant polyphenol found in green tea, on growing and aging human epidermal skin cells. Previous research had found that the compound induced apoptosis (programmed cell death) in tumor cells.

In this study, researchers found that EGCG accelerated cell differentiation in the growing cells and renewed DNA synthesis in the aged cells. Dr Hsu commented, "Cells that migrate toward the surface of the skin normally live about 28 days, and by day 20, they basically sit on the upper layer of the skin getting ready to die. But EGCG reactivates them. I was so surprised. When exposed to EGCG, the old cells found in the upper layers of the epidermis appear to start dividing again. They make DNA and produce more energy. They are reactivated. There are lots of unknowns, but if we can energize dying skin cells, we can probably improve the skin condition.”

Dr Hsu believes the finding is promising for conditions such as apthous ulcers, wrinkles, rosacea, psoriasis and wounds, and may also be of value for diabetics, who experience delayed healing. He explained, "If skin cells surrounding wounds or infections don't heal in time, fibroblasts in the connective tissue may rush in to fill the void and cause scar tissue formation. If we can spur the skin cells to differentiate and proliferate, we can potentially accelerate the wound-healing process and prevent scarring."

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Grape Seed Extract Aids Skin Healing

A study funded by the National Institutes of Health, published in the October 12, 2002 issue of Free Radical Biology and Medicine, has found that an extract of grape seed helps regenerate damaged blood vessels and destroy bacteria in wounds, thus aiding in the healing process. Researchers at Ohio State University tested a topical grape seed proanthocyanidin solution on mice who each received two small puncture wounds. Proanthocyanidins are potent antioxidants found in grape seeds, Pycnogenol® (pine tree bark) and other plants. One wound received an application of the grape seed extract, while the other wound received a saline solution, following which both wounds were left to heal for five days. When the wound areas were examined at the end of this period, skin samples were obtained and examined.

Study coauthor and Ohio State University Heart and Lung Research Institute Laboratory of Molecular Medicine Director Dr. Chandan Sen summarized the results: "We saw the healing effects grape-seed extract had on wounds from day one. It seemed to enhance the formation of epidermal tissue as well as the deposition of connective tissue. The skin treated with grape-seed extract was further along in the healing process compared to the saline-treated tissue. The extract-treated skin showed signs of healing faster and the newly formed tissue was denser, meaning that its structure was stronger."

Although proanthocyanidins act as an antioxidant when ingested, they can have a pro-oxidant effect when applied to wounds. This provides an antibacterial action, and was observed in a second study utilizing the compound. When human skin cells were treated with grape seed extract the researchers found more free radicals, which at low levels increase cell proliferation, connective tissue formation, and the creation of new blood vessels through enhanced vascular endothelial growth factor expression.

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DMAE Produces Firming Effect on Skin

One of the major problems of advanced aging is the sagging of tissues caused by the destruction of the skin's underlying support structure (primarily collagen and elastin). While much of this structural deterioration may be preventable by lifestyle changes and proper use of oral and topical agents, it is difficult to reverse this unsightly collapse of facial tissues. 

In a study published in the August 2002 issue of Skin Research Technologies, DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) was shown to produce a firming effect on the skin. This mechanism may be due to the fact that DMAE functions as a cell membrane stabilizer. Based on clinical reports, DMAE may be the first topical agent that can help firm sagging skin.

Uhoda I, et al. Split face study on the cutaneous tensile effect of 2-dimethylaminoethanol (deanol) gel. Skin Res Technol 2002 Aug;8(3):164-7.

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Green Tea Extract Helps Acne

Long touted for its health-promoting properties, green tea might be an effective treatment for acne. These findings were presented at the American Academy of Dermatology Annual Meeting in March 2003.

Green tea has been shown to fight bacteria, reduce inflammation and decrease hormone activity -- three characteristics that make green tea an excellent candidate for an acne therapy. "This study showed that 3 percent green tea cream is comparable to 4 percent benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of moderate to severe acne," said lead author, Dr. Jennifer Gan-Wong, with the Memorial Medical Center in the Philippines.

Study Procedure
Researchers tested green tea -- in the form of a 3 percent green tea extract cream -- vs. the leading treatment for acne, 4 percent benzoyl peroxide cream.

A computer randomized a group of 108 subjects into one of two treatment groups. One applied benzoyl peroxide cream twice daily for 12 weeks and the other used green tea extract cream twice daily for the same period. Patients received identical bottles of cream and were unaware of the type of treatment they were assigned. Subjects were examined and photographed each week by dermatologists, who also were unaware which treatment each patient had been given.

Findings and Recommendations
The researchers noted the green tea cream seemed to lighten patients' skin color and improve the overall appearance of their complexion.

The preliminary data suggest green tea extract cream causes fewer side effects than benzoyl peroxide treatment. Patients in the green tea group reported fewer cases of dry skin, itching and allergic responses.

Green tea therapy might be appealing to consumers because conventional wisdom holds that natural products are less toxic and have fewer side effects than other drug products, the researchers said.

The finding could be relevant to the millions of Americans who suffer from acne breakouts, a condition which affects nearly 85 percent of the U.S. population and has a detrimental affect on self-esteem and well-being.

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Pycnogenol® Increases Sunburn Resistance

Researchers asked 21 fair­skinned men and women in their 20's to take daily Pycnogenol® supplements. The dosage was assigned based upon the subjects weight. Testing was done initially at a lower dose of Pycnogenol®, then at a higher dosage.  The Pycnogenol® dosage was 1.10 mg/kg of body weight, for four weeks, followed by 1.66 mg/kg of body weight for an additional four weeks. A typical woman weighing 130 pounds (60 kg) would therefore have taken about 66 mg Pycnogenol® per day during the initial 4 week period, followed by about 96 mg per day Pycnogenol® during the second 4-week period.  A man weighing 180 pounds (80 kg) would have taken about 88 mg Pycnogenol® during the first 4 weeks, and about 133 mg Pycnogenol® during the second 4 weeks. 

Before taking the supplements, researchers determined the minimal amount of UV radiation to cause erythema, or redness, a reliable parameter of acute inflammatory reaction in the skin. Their responses to UV radiation were again tested after four and eight weeks.

Results: The use of Pycnogenol® supplements greatly increased the subjects' resistance to sunburn. After four weeks of taking the lower dose of Pycnogenol®, a 40% higher exposure to UV radiation was needed to induce sunburn. After eight weeks, including the higher dose of Pycnogenol®, an 84% higher exposure to UV radiation was needed to induce sunburn in the subjects.

Source: Free Radical Biology and Medicine 2001;30:154-160.

View more info on Pycnogenol

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