Protection Against Skin Damage from Solar RadiationGrowing Role for Supplements in Protection Against Sun-Damaged Skin
by Jim English
Over the past few months night gazers across North America have been treated to the stunning light displays of the aurora borealis, with sightings being reported as far south as the Mexico border. The unusual and unexpected appearance of northern lights is the result of a stupendous outburst of radiation as sun reaches a peak in its eleven-year solar cycle. This period of activity, notable for the passage of dark spots across the surface of the sun, serves to remind us that our local star -- provider of light and heat for the earth -- is the source of dangerous and potentially life-threatening radiation that causes sunburns and cancer. For millions of Americans the reminder may come too late.
What we think of as visible light is actually a spectrum composed of over 1,500 different wavelengths that includes ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Short-term exposure to UV rays can result in a tan or sunburn, depending on length of exposure, skin color and other genetic factors. Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet A (UVA) or ultraviolet B (UVB) increases photoaging, including wrinkles and hyperpigmentation that becomes more evident with advanced age. (1) UV radiation at high doses is responsible for increased incidence of skin cancer, the most common form of human cancer.
Many skin tumors are not malignant, and in time may spontaneously regress. Examples of benign tumors include moles, seborrheic keratosis keratoacanthoma, and the often premalignant actinic keratosis. Malignant tumors include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. (2) More than 1.3 million cases of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer will be diagnosed this year.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma, the type of skin cancer that struck former President Bill Clinton last year, is one of the most common -- accounting for about 75 percent of all cases -- and most curable forms of skin cancer. Men are more than twice as likely as women to get basal cell cancers. Exposure to the sun and having fair skin are significant risk factors for both basal cell carcinoma and the more deadly malignant melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma begins in the epidermis, the top layer of skin, usually on the neck and head -- areas that are most exposed to direct sunlight or previously burned. Lesions are usually smooth, surrounded by a pearly border that may be pigmented or have an ulceration in the center. Lesions grow slowly, rarely spread into other parts of the body (metastasize) and rarely cause death. Treatment for basal cell carcinoma involves surgical removal, freezing or local chemotherapy.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer that can affect both skin and mucous membranes. Often occurring in sun exposed or burned areas, lesions appear as rough scaly nodules that can ulcerate and metastasize. The cancerous keratinocyte cells often extend down into the dermis, requiring surgical removal and the possible removal of enlarged lymph nodes for all but the smallest of lesions.
Malignant melanoma, the form of skin cancer that Arizona Senator John McCain was diagnosed with on the campaign trail last year, is the most serious and deadly form of skin cancer. Melanoma is increasing at an alarming rate. Ten years ago chances of developing malignant melanoma were 1 in 250; today estimates that an individual will
have malignant melanoma are 1 in 70. In raw numbers, nearly 50,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States this year. And while melanoma accounts for just four percent of skin cancer cases, it causes 79 percent of skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.
Risk of developing melanoma increases with sun exposure, particularly early childhood sunburns. While in its earliest stages melanoma may only be present on the surface of the skin, it is a highly invasive cancer that spreads easily. Prognosis is dependent on the depth of invasion of the tumor; therefore early detection and removal are
Solar radiation is one of the most important environmental stress agents for human skin, causing sunburn, premature skin aging, and skin cancer. (3) Using sunscreens, staying in the shade and covering exposed skin are still among the best methods for protecting skin. Additionally, research now indicates that several nutrients and antioxidants can aid in protecting and healing damaged skin and may contribute to lowering the risk of developing skin cancer.
Green tea contains natural antioxidant polyphenolic compounds known as epicatechins. Researchers have shown that green tea polyphenols -- taken orally or applied topically -- exert photoprotective effects that inhibit ultraviolet radiation-induced skin tumors (tumorigenesis). Studies have also shown that green tea extract possesses anti-inflammatory activity, protecting against ultraviolet (UV) light-induced skin inflammation (erythema). (4) The major polyphenolic chemopreventive constituent in green tea responsible for these biochemical or pharmacological effects is (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).
When researchers tested green tea extracts in animal models they found that these polyphenolic compounds afforded protection against chemical carcinogenesis and photocarcinogenesis in mouse skin. In similar experimental studies with human skin, green tea polyphenols again demonstrated anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic
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Nutritional supplements can alleviate sun damage and wrinkles and relieve numerous skin conditions natural substances can play an important role in protecting and healing damaged skin. In clinical trials, numerous natural alternatives have prevented or al
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