Beta-Carotene and Other Carotenoids Protect Skin from Ultraviolet Damage
Taking a nutritional supplement containing beta-carotene, plus other carotenoids such as lutein and lycopene, may help protect the skin against harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, according to a new study in Journal of Nutrition (2003;133:98–101). Preventing damage to the skin may lead to a reduced risk of developing skin cancer in high-risk groups.
Carotenoids are a highly colored group of plant pigments that are known to be potent antioxidants. There are more than 600 different carotenoids, although the best researched compounds are beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Studies have shown that carotenoids may help prevent some cancers and may lower the risk of some eye diseases.
In the new study, 36 adults between the ages of 22 and 55 were assigned to receive one of the following: (1) 24 mg per day of beta-carotene, (2) a mixed carotenoid supplement containing 8 mg per day each of beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene, or (3) a placebo for 12 weeks. Skin redness before and 24 hours after irradiation with UV light was measured initially and after 6 and 12 weeks of supplementation.
Both groups that took the nutritional supplements containing carotenoids had a significant decrease in UV light-induced redness of the skin after 12 weeks of treatment. There was no significant difference between the two treatment groups, suggesting that mixed carotenoids are as effective as beta-carotene alone in protecting the skin against UV damage. However, since lutein and lycopene are found in high amounts in other organs, the health benefits of these substances may go beyond just protecting the skin. Studies suggest lycopene may reduce asthma symptoms and may help prevent prostate cancer. Lutein has been associated with lowering the risk of macular degeneration and may help prevent cataracts.
Concerns have been raised about the safety of beta-carotene supplementation for smokers because two published studies showed an increased risk of lung cancer among smokers who supplemented with beta-carotene. However, among nonsmokers, beta-carotene appears to be safe and potentially beneficial.
While some carotenoids can be converted to vitamin A, taking a nutritional supplement containing carotenoids is not the same as taking vitamin A. High amounts of vitamin A can lead to toxicity, whereas carotenoids are nontoxic, even when taken in large quantities.
Dietary intake of some fruits and vegetables can provide significant amounts of carotenoids. Yellow vegetables and fruits, such as squash, carrots, mangos, and apricots are good sources of beta-carotene. Green, leafy vegetables provide a high amount of lutein. Lycopene can be found in tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guava.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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