Entries in Sunlight (3)


Sunscreen Pill from Aussie Reef Coral?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Tropical coral from Australia's Great Barrier Reef contains natural UV blockers that might one day come in a pill that protects our eyes and skin from the sun's ravages, researchers say.

But don't toss your high-SPF lotions and creams yet. If all goes as planned, a tablet that would protect people from damaging ultraviolet radiation is probably about five years away, said Paul Long, a senior lecturer in pharmaceutical science at King's College London.

Long leads a three-year research project, financed by the British government, focused on sun-shielding compounds in Acropora microphthalma coral. He and his fellow researchers have been trying to unravel the biochemical secrets of these chemicals, extracted from coral samples gathered during night dives.

"What we have found is that the algae living within the coral makes a compound that we think is transported to the coral, which then modifies it into a sunscreen for the benefit of both the coral and the algae," Long said in a statement from King's College, which issued a news release about the research. "Not only does this protect them both from UV damage, but we have seen that fish that feed on the coral also benefit from this sunscreen protection, so it is clearly passed up the food chain."

Because Acropora microphthalma coral is endangered, the scientists first must create a synthetic version of the coral compounds, which could be tested on human skin samples. Long has suggested scientists might find a ready supply in excess skin discarded by plastic surgeons after tummy tucks. Only after scientists learn how the compound affects skin cells could they then begin developing a pill that would protect skin throughout the body, as well as the eyes, which also are sensitive to the effects of UV light.

Long and his colleagues began thinking a pill might work based upon observations of small fish eating coral, "like Nemo" in the animated movie Finding Nemo, "and then larger fish would eat the smaller fish, so these compounds pass up the food chain."

One important consideration for researchers involves determining how the compounds' UV-blocking properties might interfere with the body's production of Vitamin D, often called the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D comes either from exposure to sunlight, or from dietary supplements.

A pill based on coral's natural UV blockers wouldn't be the first sunscreen pill to offer protection from the inside out. A dietary supplement called Heliocare contains green tea, beta-carotene and Polypodium leucotomos, a tropical fern extract long used for psoriasis and eczema. However, dermatologists say its skin-protective antioxidants don't take the place of topical sunscreens, but may make the sun less vulnerable to UV damage. A bottle of 60 Heliocare pills runs about $50.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sunlight Allergy 'Like Pouring Hot Wax On Your Skin'

Courtesy Craig Leppert(NEW YORK) -- Many people are preparing to spend some time in the spring sunshine. But for one Syracuse University student, it's all fun and games until the sun comes out. Craig Leppert, 20, has a rare genetic disorder, called erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP), that makes him allergic to sunlight.

"When I get burned by the sun, it feels a lot like pouring hot wax on your skin, or having your hand cut with a knife and put over a stove," Leppert explained. "It's probably the worst feeling of pain I've ever felt. And I've broken a bone before, and I'd rather break a bone than get burned by the sun."

This week marks National EPP Awareness Week, a time of the year that Leppert often uses to spread the word about the effects of this disease.

"I met a ton of people through Facebook and e-mail who have EPP who see me and my family on TV and they reach out," he said. "They didn't know they had it 'til they saw similar symptoms of what I went through with EPP. So that's kind of a cool thing and to meet people and bounce ideas about EPP off of each other."

EPP is a rare disease. According to the American Porphyria Foundation, an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 people suffer from EPP in the United States.

It's so uncommon, in fact, it took Leppert and his family a few years before they discovered his diagnosis. He said he first started exhibiting symptoms when he was 18 months old.

EPP is caused by the body's genetic defect in the enzyme responsible for metabolizing protoporphyrin, a precursor of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transport oxygen. Since people with EPP cannot metabolize protoporphyrin properly, it gets excreted from the red blood cells and ends up in the skin.

"And that's what reacts with sunlight when he goes out into the sun," said Dr. Micheline Mathews-Roth, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. "That [enzyme defect] causes these local reactions of itching and burning. And some people do get skin lesions looking as if they have burned skin.”

Dr. Mathews-Roth has completed a number of studies on EPP throughout the years and said there is not a cure for the disease just yet, although doctors have made some headway in recent years.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study Examines Sunlight, Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis Link

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CANBERRA, Australia) -- Multiple Sclerosis (MS) affects about 250,000 adults in the United States.  Previous studies have shown that MS is less common in those who live closer to the equator and in those who have higher levels of vitamin D.

A study in the journal Neurology evaluated 216 adults aged 18-56 who showed early symptoms of MS but were not yet diagnosed, as well as 395 adults with no history of the disease.  They reported their previous sun exposure while researchers measured their sun-related skin damage and the vitamin D levels in their blood.

The results of the evaluation concluded that people who had more sun exposure were sixty percent less likely to develop the first symptoms of MS. However, vitamin D levels did not show a similar significance, researchers reported.

The authors conclude that sun exposure and vitamin D status may have a role in the risk of developing MS. 

Experts, however, note that those already suffering from MS have shown no benefit from sun exposure, and caution that the line between sunlight and skin cancer is well-established.  As such, individuals should continue to limit exposure to sun.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio