Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Carotenoids - The Internal Sunscreen

Did you know that you can protect your skin from sun-damage by simply eating and supplementing with certain nutrients and phytochemicals? Well, it's true! The key is to choose your foods and supplements wisely. On the top of the list, with regard to sun-protection, is a class of antioxidants called carotenoids.

Carotenoids are the fat-soluble substances that bless many of our favorite fruits and vegetables with their vibrant colors. They make carrots orange. They kiss tomatoes with a rosy-red skin. They color the meat of avocados with an assortment of greens. Heck, they even account for the pink flesh of wild salmon.

And, the best part is that they're really, really good for you. :)

That's all fine and dandy but where's the proof that they help protect against sunburn?

There's a lot of evidence to back up this statement. I'll first introduce you to a recent summary about the skin-protective effect of beta-carotene. Then, I'll provide some more links, if you'd like to research on your own. And, I'll all share a personal story about how diet and supplementation can protect you from a wicked, tropical sunburn.

First, let's briefly review the beta-carotene study.

The researchers performed a meta-analysis of all the human studies (found in the medical literature) through June of 2007. They basically collected all the data from the available studies (seven studies total) and analyzed it.

Their findings were that, oral supplementation of beta carotene, for a minimum of ten weeks offers protection against sunburn. It also appears that the longer you supplement with beta carotene, the greater the over-all protection. This is referred to as "time-dependent" protection.

The study abstract doesn't provide the average dosages used but a separate commentary of this same study revealed that the dosages ranged from 15 to 180 mg a day.

Why should I try to eat and supplement with beta carotene when I can just put on sunscreen?

A few reasons. First of all, this isn't necessarily an either-or situation. You can apply a natural sunscreen AND eat/supplement with an internal sunscreen as well. That way, you get added protection.

Secondly, some people have sensitive skin (like me) and prefer not to use sunscreen - unless it's absolutely necessary. I'm not necessarily suggesting that others do this but this is what I personally do.

Do you think I'm nuts?

Maybe I am but consider this: A few years ago, my wife and I vacationed in Costa Rica. It was beautiful but also quiet hot, humid and sunny of course.

I didn't use any sunscreen but I did supplement with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) and antioxidants (like lycopene, vitamin C, CoQ10 and more). I also made sure to eat plenty of colorful vegetables (and a few fruits).

What happened? I didn't get burned. And, I'm pretty faired-skinned (and therefore expected to burn quite easily).

And now, let's take a look at some other sun-protecting supplements ...

+ Lycopene (the red pigment in tomatoes)

+ Fish Oil and Skin Cancer Prevention

+ Green Tea, Grape Seed Extract and Silymarin (Milk Thistle Extract)

+ Vitamins C, E and Pycnogenol

I hope this blog was of value to you. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to let me know.

The Vitamin Tutor


Daniella said...

I have a question, and I am not sure if this is the correct place to post it, but if you can help I would greatly appreciate it!
I like to take a multi-vitamin daily. Can you recommend a multi-vitamin in a capsule form; preferably one with calcium? My stomach tends to not like tablet forms of vitamins. Thank you for your help.
BTW I really enjoy reading your informative Blog!

The Vitamin Tutor said...

Hello, Daniella!

I've got some good news and some bad news.

First the good: I can recommend a multi-vitamin/mineral that's in a capsule form.

And now for the bad news: Calcium is a rather bulky nutrient. It takes up a lot of space in a capsule.

So, if you want a multi-vitamin with a large amount of calcium ... you'll likely have to take several capsules a day.

By that, I mean that you may need to take two capsules with breakfast and two capsules with dinner, for instance.

This may be easier than it seems. You can really take them at any time of the day provided that you take them with food.

I'd also recommend that you spread out your dosages so that you'll get the most out of your supplementation.

Think of the supplements like food. It's better to eat two or more meals a day than to eat one big meal a day.

So, here are the best options that I'm aware of.

1. You can take one product that combines a multi with calcium. This will require several capsules a day.

2. You can take a multi and take your calcium separately. This will also require several capsules a day but from two different products.

If you go with option #1 I'd consider a good prenatal multi.

Why? Because a prenatal will contain a large amount of calcium (and select other nutrients, like folic acid and iron) and it should be gentle on your stomach.

A good example of a product like this is the Now Foods brand Prenatal Caps.


Because this is a prenatal formula, it contains more iron than a typical multi. This is often a good thing for a younger woman. But, if you don't currently take iron or if your iron levels are already adequate ... then you may want to reconsider taking a prenatal.

If you'd do better with option #2, then consider a multi like this:


You'll note that it doesn't have much calcium or magnesium (because it's a one-a-day formula).

If you decide to take something like this ... you'll probably want to add some calcium separately.

Here's a product that would be a good example:


Another option would be to take a tablespoon of a liquid calcium like this.


How much calcium you require is dependent on your diet. If you already get a lot of calcium, from the foods you eat, you'll do fine with a lower-level of the supplements.


Option #1: Now Foods Prenatal Caps

typical dosage: two capsules, twice a day, with food

Option #2: TwinLab Daily One plus Now Foods Cal-Mag Caps or Lifetime Liquid Calcium Magnesium Citrate.

typical dosage: 1 capsule of Daily One, with food, once a day

and 2-4 capsules (total) of Cal-Mag Caps (taken with food). If you take 4 capsules, take 2 caps with breakfast and 2 with dinner (or something like that). If you think you only need two capsules, take then with any meal of the day.

or take 1-2 tablespoons of the Liquid Calcium Magnesium, also with food. If you take 2 tablespoons, spread out the dosage.

special note: Calcium and magnesium (especially magnesium) can sometimes help promote a restful night of sleep. You may want to take one of your cal/mag doses close to bedtime.

I know this is a lot of information and it may be kind of confusing. So please feel free to ask any follow-up questions you may have.

If there's some additional information you think is relevant, please let me know that too. The more I know, the better advice I can try to give.

I hope this helps! And, thanks for your kind words!

Be well!

The Vitamin Tutor

Jim said...

Reading your article about carotenoids reminded me of my shopping experience yesterday at WalMart. I was shopping for my salad fixings as usual and the store was completely out of tomatoes because of the salmonella outbreak. So I improvised and bought canned diced tomatoes and tomato paste. I put the empty tomato paste can down for Buddy and he loved it. He worked on that can for 10 minutes, chewing off the paper label. I would have never guessed that he would like tomato paste.

BTW, my salad was pretty good and possibly even more nutritious.


The Vitamin Tutor said...

Hello, Jim.

Tomato paste is an excellent source of lycopene. And, it's also valuable because cooked tomatoes provide more bioavaiable lycopene than fresh tomatoes.

Fresh tomatoes are great for you. But, the cooking process appears to allow for greater absorption of the lycopene.

By the way, adding some healthy fat(like olive oil) to your cooked tomatoes may further increase the absorption of lycopene.

Isn't it great when something healthy is also delicious? :)

Be well!

The Vitamin Tutor

Anonymous said...

Hey Vitamin Tutor!
I stumbled across your blog because your namesake grabbed me and made me smile. It's nice to meet you. Let's talk about this latest anti-vitamin study:


After being dormant for a year, it awakened the vitamin lover in me and I started blogging again.

Hope to hear from you soon.
Adam Wilk

The Vitamin Tutor said...

Howdy, Adam!

Thanks for dropping by and asking a really important question.

My POV on studying natural substances (like vitamins and herbal extracts) is that it's often much more complex than studying synthetic medications.

Part of the reason is due to the chemical composition of a natural substance vs. an isolated, synthetically produced chemical.

There are a number of reasons why I think this particular study is flawed. Chief among them, are the following:

+ The usage of synthetic vitamin E ... which is not the same as naturally extracted vitamin E *

+ I also take issue with the quantities and the frequency of the dosages used.

+ The conflicts of interest are also unnecessary and inappropriate, I believe.

In short, this is a trial that appears to have been put together by doctors who aren't very well informed about how nutrients can be used successfully.

Or, as some people suspect, it may have been put together by doctors that designed the study to fail.

I don't know which is the case. I just know that it wasn't a very well designed study. And, because of that, it's a shameful waste of money or worse, in my opinion.

Here's a pretty good analysis of several recent (negative) vitamin studies.


And, here's some information about a recent study, on vitamin C, that shows it's very real potential.


* Note that I'm not upset about the use of synthetic vitamin C. The reason for this is because naturally-occurring and synthetically produced vitamin C are chemically identical. The same cannot be said for vitamin E.