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Lycopene May Help Protect Against UV Damage to the Skin

Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight penetrates the skin and damages it, causing wrinkles, sun spots and possibly skin cancer over time. A recent study suggests that taking a lycopene-rich tomato nutrient or lutein may help protect against UV damage to the skin.

Participants in the study included 65 healthy people between the ages of 18 and 60. Over the course of 12 weeks, they were given either 20 mg of the lycopene-rich tomato nutrient complex, 20 mg of lutein, or a placebo daily. Each active intervention was followed by a two-week washout period, after which the participants switched interventions for another 12 weeks. The participants’ skin was irradiated at the beginning and end of each phase. Biopsies were taken 24 hours after irradiation and analyzed for gene expression.

At the conclusion of the study, the researchers noted that the lycopene-rich tomato nutrient had inhibited the expression of the genes heme oxygenase, inercellular adhesion molecule-1, and matrix metalloproteinase-1. These genes are known to be induced by radiation.  In comparison, the lutein group showed completely inhibited gene expression only during the first 12 weeks, before the placebo, with a much smaller effect if it was taken during the second 12 week period.

Researchers from the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Düsseldorf, Germany, conducted the study. It was published online ahead of print on September 23, 2016, in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Previous studies have shown that lycopene may have a positive effect on heart health, bone health, and skin health. If you want to increase lycopene levels you may want to consider taking a lycopene supplement, or increasing your consumption of red-pigmented foods such as tomatoes, peppers and papayas. Certain diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, are also high in lycopene.

Previous studies suggest that lutein may help with eye health, slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration, and combat inflammation. You can increase your lutein levels by consuming more green leafy vegetables, corn, and egg yolk.

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