Life Extension Magazine July 2014
Protect Against Sun-Induced Skin Aging From The Inside Out
By Michael Downey
Even if you’re exposed to solar rays for just a few minutes a day, photons in the sun’s ultraviolet rays can wreak havoc on your skin, leading to wrinkles, age spots, and cancer.
Most people think that topical sunscreen is the best way to protect against the negative effects of ultraviolet radiation. But even if you faithfully apply sunscreen daily, some parts of your body remain vulnerable to the skin-aging and DNA-damaging effects of the sun.
Fortunately, there is an additional way to protect your skin.
A natural plant compound works at a deep level inside your skin’s cells to reduce the effects of harmful ultraviolet rays and blunt skin aging.1-3
Polypodium leucotomos is a tropical fern extract containing a natural mixture of phytochemicals that have been shown to inhibit photoaging.4-6 It inhibits a protein-degrading enzyme that is a prime cause of photoaging.7 Most strikingly—it exerts its effects when taken orally.4,5
In this article, you’ll learn how this plant extract significantly prevents4,5 —and even repairs5 —the ravages of ultraviolet radiation that lead to premature skin aging.
How The Sun Ages Your Skin
Your skin is exposed to the damaging rays of the sun far more than you realize. Even if you’re only in the sun a few minutes a day, the photons (gamma rays) in the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can alter the structure of your skin7 —leading to premature skin aging, wrinkles, sun spots, and more. UV rays are extremely damaging to your skin in a number of ways:
- The photons in the sun’s UV rays oxidize proteins, which correlates with accelerated or premature aging.8-10 Oxidation from UV radiation activates matrix metalloproteinase (MMP), enzymes that break down elastin and collagen—the proteins responsible for keeping your skin supple and firm.11,12
- UV radiation induces oxidative stress that triggers the release of proinflammatory cytokines and growth factors, which further alter elastin and collagen. The result is accumulated breakdown of the skin’s structural integrity.11
- UV rays generate free radicals and other harmful substances that damage DNA. The DNA encodes the information responsible for the continuing production of healthy new skin cells.13
- Ultraviolet radiation reduces skin levels of Langerhans cells, specialized immune cells that are abundantly found in the skin and are responsible for protecting against invading pathogens and for participating in the immune response and defense against cancers.13-16
These destructive effects on tissue structure are eventually visible as photo-aged skin. The prominent clinical sign is wrinkling, but other effects include a loss of elasticity, age spots, hypo- or hyper-pigmentation, spider veins, and blackheads.17
Some people currently rely totally on topical sunscreens—but scientists have found this protection alone to be largely inadequate.17-19
The good news is that scientists have now established that an extract of the fern Polypodium leucotomos contains a high percentage of photo-protective compounds that block the skin aging that results from sun exposure.5
Unleash Your Skin’s Internal Ultraviolet Defenses
For centuries, Honduran natives have protected themselves against sun damage and skin disorders by ingesting Polypodium leucotomos fern extract. The first report on its effectiveness was published 47 years ago in the journal Nature,20 and since then, clinical trials have demonstrated that this antioxidant-rich extract safely bolsters the skin’s defenses against the accelerated aging caused by ultraviolet rays.5
Polypodium leucotomos contains photoprotective compounds—phenols, biological acidic molecules, and monosaccharides—that prevent the sun’s rays from breaking down the body’s own photoprotective molecules. Studies suggest no significant toxicity or allergenic properties.5,6,21
By preserving this natural, built-in protection against sun damage, Polypodium leucotomos exhibits strong anti-aging activity on the skin, both superficial and deeper layers.22
Polypodium leucotomos works in a number of ways to protect the structural integrity of your skin:
- Polypodium leucotomos prevents the destructive structural changes in the skin associated with increased oxidative stress. For example, Polypodium leucotomos inhibits ultraviolet light’s dramatic disorganization of microfilaments—the tough but flexible, fibrous framework that supports skin cells.22
- It also inhibits the ultraviolet light-induced mislocation of adhesion points between cells themselves, and also between cells and the surrounding matrix.22,23 These adhesion points hold separate cells together and provide tissues with structural cohesion and an important signaling pathway—without which skin breakdown may occur.24,25
- Polypodium leucotomos extract helps protect the skin from premature aging by inhibiting several matrix metalloproteinases—enzymes that break down elastin and collagen—and by increasing the expression of tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases (TIMP), your body’s own inhibitor of metalloproteinase.26,27
- Polypodium leucotomos stimulates molecules that are reduced in the skin during the onset of photoaging—such as elastin, collagen, and transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta), which is a protein that activates a host of signaling pathways involved in many cellular processes.26,28
- Ultraviolet radiation also damages cellular membranes in the skin by inducing lipidperoxidation.29,30 Polypodium leucotomos extract blocks this process and thus prevents skin damage.31
- Recent research has established the effectiveness of Polypodium leucotomos at naturally protecting both ultraviolet-radiated and non-radiated fibroblasts26 —cells that synthesize the extracellular matrix and collagen, the structural framework of skin tissue.32
- Additionally, extracts of Polypodium leucotomos have been shown to inhibit protein-destroying skin enzymes that decrease skin elasticity,31 to inhibit damaging skin inflammation,33 and to promote the survival of healthy skin cells.22,33
So by protecting from the harmful ultraviolet rays as well as blocking the multiple forms of damage they cause, Polypodium leucotomos extract provides the skin with extraordinary protection from photoaging1,34 —allowing you to retain a high degree of healthy, youthful skin despite chronological aging.2
Restore Sun-Damaged Skin
Remarkably, scientists found that Polypodium leucotomos not only prevents, but also repairs, the sun’s damaging effects on the skin. It prevents sun-aged skin by directly inhibiting MMP (matrix metalloproteinase) expression, preventing the breakdown of collagen in the first place. It repairs sun-aged skin by stimulating new production of collagen and elastin5,31,32 —healing and regenerating photoaged skin after exposure to ultraviolet radiation.5
The regenerative properties underlying this anti-aging effect include reactive oxygen species scavenging capability, inhibiting premature apoptosis (cell death), and blocking improper extracellular matrix rearrangements that occur during oxidative damage.5 These activities suggested to scientists that the benefits of Polypodium leucotomos may extend beyond skin care—and may be useful as a systemic anti-aging and antioxidant tool.5
In fact, scientists already suggest looking beyond the anti-aging effects of Polypodium leucotomos on the skin—and towards future research on its effects on other parameters related to body aging, such telomere length and telomerase activity.5
Powerful Skin Health Benefits
In an array of studies, Polypodium leucotomos has proven its ability to block the long-term skin-aging consequences of sun exposure—but the short-term benefits are equally impressive. This is specifically demonstrated with sunburn, idiopathic dermatoses, and skin cancer.
In the same way that oral Polypodium leucotomos extract can block long-term sun-induced skin aging, it will also help prevent the shorter-term skin damage known as sunburn, which over time greatly contributes to skin photoaging.
If you’re used to covering up or using topical sunscreens, it may be difficult to imagine that swallowing a capsule could provide potent protection from harmful ultraviolet radiation from inside the skin. But multiple studies show that Polypodium leucotomos might increase the amount of time you can spend in the sun before your skin becomes red and inflamed.1,2,34
In an early clinical trial, 21 study participants experienced an almost 3-fold increase in the amount of UV radiation that would generate comparable redness/sunburn, compared to when they used no form of UV protection.2 Those who took special drugs that increase photosensitivity experienced impressive results, in this case increasing the amount of UV radiation before visible suntan occurred by up to nearly 7 fold.2,35
In another study, scientists enlisted volunteers who had fair-to-light skin, which made them more naturally vulnerable to sunburn. The active group received Polypodium leucotomos extract in doses equivalent to 7.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight—translating to 525 milligrams per 154-pound person—and was then directly exposed to varying doses of artificial ultraviolet radiation. Compared to control subjects, individuals taking Polypodium leucotomos extract experienced a substantial decrease in skin reddening.1
Microscopic effects are even more impressive. Extract-treated cells showed reduced skin damage caused by ultraviolet light—including significantly fewer sunburn cells, which are indicators of tissue injury.1 They also showed a decreased level of the kind of DNA damage that can lead to cancer, as well as a trend suggesting the preservation of Langerhans cells (key immune cells found in the epidermis, or outer layer of skin).1
While sunburn is an inflammatory reaction with a known cause, some people are prone to specific skin disorders where the cause is unknown, called idiopathic dermatoses. This category can include polymorphic light eruption, a condition in which sufferers experience a skin rash after even brief exposure to sunlight.
In one study, when scientists gave idiopathic photodermatoses patients 480 milligrams per day of oral Polypodium leucotomos and then exposed them to sunlight, an astounding 80% of treated patients reported improvement.36
And in a more recent study of 57 patients with idiopathic photodermatoses, when subjects orally took 480 milligrams of Polypodium leucotomos daily and then exposed themselves to sunlight, 73% oft he patients experienced a significant reduction in symptoms.37
The same sunlight that leads to structural changes and accelerated skin aging can trigger changes that boost the risk of skin cancer.38 Even though skin cancer now accounts for over 40% of all US cancers,39 unprotected ultraviolet light exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.40 Fortunately, the same mechanisms through which Polypodium leucotomos protects the skin from photoaging provide unprecedented defense against skin cancer as well.1,6,29,31,34,41-44
Scientists found that oral Polypodium leucotomos appears to promote skin health by maintaining the skin’s Langerhans cells, which scavenge toxins and debris.1,2 They also found that the oral extract reduces ultraviolet light-induced DNA damage and mutations associated with skin cancer,1,45 concluding that oral Polypodium leucotomos is “…an effective systemic chemophotoprotective agent...”2