Lutein, the antioxidant found in dark green, leafy vegetables, protects the skin against some of the damaging effects of the sun, according to Harvard Medical School research presented at a Society for Investigative Dermatology meeting recently.
"Lutein has been widely recognised for its eye health benefits for several years. But our data is the first of its kind to suggest that lutein may have the potential to act as a preventative agent against UVB-induced skin cancer," said Salvador Gonzalez, leader of the research team.
"In addition, this data suggests that lutein protects the skin against damage caused by exposure to UVB light, further validating our position that lutein is a critical component to overall skin health."
The team of researchers from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University Medical School fed mice lutein-enriched diets for a period of two weeks. A control group of mice was fed a standard, non-supplemented diet. Both groups of mice were exposed to UVB light five days a week for a period of 22 weeks.
The study showed that the mice fed lutein-rich diets could be exposed to UVB light for a significantly longer period of time before developing tumours compared with the mice fed a standard diet. In addition, the mice fed lutein-rich diets developed significantly fewer and smaller tumours. The mice fed lutein-rich diets also showed reduced inflammation of the skin and signs of reduced skin cell damage.
The research was funded by Kemin Foods, the natural ingredients manufacturer which makes the patented FloraGLO Lutein.
"This Harvard research is an exciting and significant addition to the growing body of scientific studies supporting the key role lutein plays in overall skin health," said Karen Nelson, senior vice president, Kemin Personal Care.
"What we now know based on this body of evidence is that when lutein is consumed, it deposits in various places in the body - the eyes, the lungs, the skin, and so on - on a preferential basis depending upon where the body needs it most. That means there's no guarantee that lutein consumed in foods will deposit in the skin first," Nelson added.
She said that a good way to ensure that the skin benefitted from the lutein was to apply the lutein topically.
Lutein is a nutrient with potent antioxidant properties naturally present in the eyes, lungs and skin, and in women in the breasts and cervix. The body obtains lutein predominantly through consumption of dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale. Over time, as lutein performs its antioxidant function, it is depleted and must be replenished in the body.