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Natural licorice compound helps the body protect skin from sun damage

Licorice root

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(NaturalNews) A chemical extracted from licorice root may help protect the skin from the damage caused by the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation - without blocking that radiation and interfering with vitamin D synthesis - according to a study conducted by researchers from Beiersdorf AG in Germany and published in the journal Experimental Dermatology in January.

"We found out that the antioxidant active Licochalcone A, which is the main component of the root extract of the plant Glycyrrhiza inflata (Chinese Licorice), is able to protect the skin from subsequent UV irradiation damage from within by strengthening the skin's own defense systems," said researcher Gitta Neufang. "Thus plant extracts with the described profile are able to provide a protective shield from sun exposure supporting and going beyond the action of sunscreens regarding sun protection."

Licorice root is a common treatment in traditional Chinese medicine, particularly for respiratory or digestive problems. Recent research has found that components of licorice root are also antimicrobial. A 2012 study in the Journal of Natural Products found that Licochalcone A and another licorice compound, licoricidin, effectively killed bacteria responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.

Activates body's own protective mechanisms

Because the skin is constantly being damaged by a variety of environmental stressors, including chemicals and UV radiation, skin cells have several built-in mechanisms for protecting against and repairing that damage.

One of the main ways that chemicals and radiation damage skin is by producing free radicals, which then damage skin cells and DNA unless they are first neutralized by antioxidants.

In the new study, researchers exposed human skin cells in the laboratory to radiation simulating that from sunlight. They found that when cells were pretreated with the chemical Licochalcone A, extracted from licorice root, they produced more antioxidants upon exposure to radiation than when they had not been pre-treated. In addition, pre-treated skin cells had lower levels of free radicals following UV radiation exposure than the control cells.

The researchers then conducted a followup study, in which human volunteers applied a lotion containing licorice root extract high in Licochalcone A to their inner forearms for two weeks. They found that the skin of these participants then suffered less damage from UV radiation.

Replacement for sunscreen?

The findings are notable in that the licorice extract appears to activate the body's own natural defense systems, something that neither sunscreen nor protective clothing is able to do.

"Even with the best sun-protecting filter system (SPF50+) 2 percent of UV-rays still reach the skin and cause damage," Neufang said. "We hope that our study helps to improve the effectiveness of sunscreens to protect from the harmful aspects of sun exposure."

If licorice root is turned into a sun-protecting lotion, it might have another important implication that the researchers do not discuss: It might enable people concerned about skin damage to increase their sun exposure, thereby increasing their body's levels of vitamin D and improving their health.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient produced by the skin upon exposure to UV rays. Once thought to play a role only in bone health, vitamin D is now known to play a critical part in maintaining a healthy immune system and protecting against cancer, autoimmune disorders and perhaps other chronic diseases.

Yet due in part to inadequate sun exposure caused by sedentary lifestyles, vitamin D deficiency is widespread.

An October 2014 study in the journal Diabetes revealed another health benefit to spending more time in the sun, without sunscreen: UV radiation also causes the skin to generate nitric oxide, which helps to regulate metabolism and slow weight gain, and may reduce the risk of obesity and related disorders (including cancer).

(Natural News Science)







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