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A Potential New Natural Cosmetic from a Popular Fruit May Prevent Skin Cancer

Tim Boyer's picture

Natural photoprotective creams that can protect the skin from sun damage and thereby prevent skin cancer may soon replace the less-natural, but commonly used topical oils that coat our bodies with all the enjoyment of swimming in oil-slicked waters. Scientists have found that extracts from fruit such as strawberries possess phytochemicals that have been shown to protect cultured skin cells from UV radiation.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, researchers interested in investigating plant derived compounds called “polyphenols”—that are known for their strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties—designed an experiment to determine if these polyphenols could offer protection from UV-A radiation. UV-A radiation is well-known for its ability to damage DNA in skin cells and generate a number of free radicals that can cause skin disease.

In the experiment, extracts from strawberries were created and diluted into three concentrations of 0.05, 0.25 and 0.5 mg/ml. Each dilution was then applied to a cell culture of human dermal fibroblasts (skin cells) and then exposed to UV-A radiation for a duration that was described in a press release as “equivalent to 90 minutes of midday summer sun in the French Riviera."

What the researchers found was that the highest strawberry extract concentration of 0.5 mg/ml demonstrated the highest level of photoprotective properties that not only increased cultured skin cell survival and health, but also offered some protection to the DNA in the skin cells as evidenced by a decreased amount of UV-A radiation induced DNA damage in comparison to a control sample of skin cells not treated with the strawberry extract.

The researchers concluded that their results show that strawberries contain compounds that confer photoprotective activity in human cell lines that may protect skin against the adverse effects of UV-A radiation and has a direct application as a new type of natural skin cream with protective abilities against sun damage.

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In a news release, co-author Maurizio Battino is credited with stating that, "These aspects are of great importance as they provide protection for cell lines subject to conditions that can provoke cancer and other skin-related inflammatory and degenerative illnesses." Furthermore, he also notes that their research is the, “…first step in determining the beneficial effects of strawberries in our diet or as a possible compound source for 'food integrators' or cosmetics for instance."

The exact mechanism of action by which the strawberry extract offers protection from UV-A radiation is currently unclear. However, the researchers do note that when the extracts were biochemically analyzed, that the primary component consists of anthocyanins—pigment compounds that give leaves, flowers and fruits their red coloration.

"These compounds have important anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-tumour properties and are capable of modulating enzymatic processes," says co-author, Sara Tulipani from the University of Barcelona, adding that "…we have not yet found a direct relationship between their presence and photoprotective properties."

Their research is a result of previous studies that made the news in October last year when it was reported that antioxidant compounds such as anthocyanins in a strawberry extract that was fed to rats as a prophylactic dose, may be responsible for protecting the rodents’ stomach linings from ulcer damage following a feeding of ethyl alcohol (ethanol).

For additional informative articles about the healing benefits of strawberries, follow these links about studies associating strawberries with preventing alcohol-induced ulcers, diabetes, esophageal cancer and as a flat belly food.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “Photoprotective Potential of Strawberry (Fragaria × ananassa) Extract against UV-A Irradiation Damage on Human Fibroblasts” Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (2012) 60 (9), pp. 2322–2327 DOI: 10.1021/jf205065x; Francesca Giampieri et al.