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More research points to broccoli as a natural sunscreen

By Simon Pitman+

12-Sep-2013
Last updated the 12-Sep-2013 at 17:38 GMT

A joint research programme has once again focused on the UV-fighting and anti-cancer properties of broccoli, suggesting it could be effective as a topical treatment.

The research, which was carried out by US scientists at the University of Arizona and the Johns Hopkins University, has focused on the compound sulforaphane, a phytochemical that has traditionally been linked to cancer-fighting properties when taken orally.

However, the scientists’ work has drilled down on how effective the treatment is when applied topically, which could make it applicable for future sunscreens formulations.

In search of a natural easy to use and inexpensive solution

The team of scientists, led by Dr. Sally Dickinson, a research assistant has been studying the cancer-fighting properties of the broccoli compound since 2005, want to determine how effective the compound may be in the search for an easy to use and relatively inexpensive treatment.

The researchers say that their work so far has revealed that sulforaphane is highly effective at activating a cancer-fighting gene known as Nrf2, which has been proven to be effective at inhibiting certain cancer-causing pathways.

The study has focused on compound extracts from broccoli sprout solution, which is known to have the highest concentrations of sulforaphane, and the researchers are planning to verify its effectiveness in a future pilot study to determine how it behaves during exposure to UV light when applied to the skin.

The researchers believe that the study could lead to sunscreens that are specially developed for people who are vulnerable to skin cancer, or individuals with very fair skin, to reduce the risk of burning and the development of skin cancer.

Building on previous research

Previous research carried out by the Johns Hopkins University has already underlined the fact that broccoli extract is highly effective against UV damage because of the stimulating effect it has on skin cells protective mechanisms.

Research published in 2007 and headed up by Paul Talalay, showed that topical application of a sulforaphane-based treatment reduced UV damage and also gave a longer-lasting protection, even after the treatment was cleaned off.

In this earlier study, the team found that the mean reduction in erythema – the reddening of the skin from UV exposure - was reduced by 37.7 per cent when the broccoli extract was applied. 

In addition, this study also suggested that treatment with broccoli extract has a long lasting effect, although the sulforaphane does not remain in the tissues for more than a few hours. Subjects who were treated with the extract on three consecutive days, but were only exposed to UV radiation 48-72 hours after treatment, still displayed a significant reduction of erythema.

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