Beta-carotene (the nutrient that is responsible for the orange color of carrots) comes from a family of nutrients known as the carotenoids (I wonder why). Beta-carotene has an antioxidant action, which means it helps neutralize damaging, destructive molecules known as free radicals. Now, free radicals have a role to play in sunburn, since sunlight exposure increases free radical production in the skin. So, in theory at least, more beta-carotene in the body and specifically the skin may help prevent sunburn.
Several studies have looked at whether beta-carotene does do this in the real world, and the study I'm focusing on today took seven such studies, and lumped them all together in a "meta-analysis." In the individual studies, beta-carotene dosing ranged from 15 mg to180 mg per day.
The conclusion of the study was that beta-carotene did indeed have the capacity to offer protection against sunburn. This study also looked at how long individuals need to take beta-carotene for before their skin is "primed." A minimum of weeks is the answer. So, sorry, if you haven't been dosing up on beta-carotene, then you've missed the boat for this year. On the plus side, there is always next year.
1. Kopcke W, et al. Protection from sunburn with beta-carotene—A meta-analysis. Photochemistry and Photobiology. 2008; 82 (2): 284–288
Dr. John Briffa is a London-based doctor and author with an interest in nutrition and natural medicine.
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