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September 21, 2006

Scientists Discover New Clues on Sun Tanning and Skin Cancer

Topics: Health Issues

Forskolin is the primary active ingredient in the Ayurvedic herb Coleus forskohlii, a botanical that has been used since ancient times in Hindu and Ayurvedic traditional medicine. The root portion of the plant has been traditionally used for medicinal purposes and contains the active constituent, forskolin. Forskolin was named after the Finnish botanist, Forskal. Historically, it has been used to treat hypertension, congestive heart failure, eczema, colic, respiratory disorders, painful urination, insomnia, and convulsions. Clinical studies of the plant and the forskolin constituent support these traditional uses, but also indicate it may have therapeutic benefit in asthma, angina, psoriasis, and prevention of cancer metastases.

Now researchers report that in addition to the traditional uses, it both darkens the skin and may protect against the onset of primary tumors:

Harvard scientists have discovered new information about how the skin tans or -- in the case of fair-skinned people -- stubbornly refuses to tan due to a genetic defect. Using a skin treatment, they have turned pale skin dark, while also protecting it from ultraviolet-induced skin cancer.

"Darkening a person's skin may mimic the protective benefit seen in people who otherwise make a large amount of pigment," says researcher David E. Fisher, MD, PhD, director of the Melanoma Program at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. And that could translate into a reduction in the toll of the potentially deadly skin cancer melanoma, expected to be diagnosed this year in 62,000 people in the U.S. and to result in 8,000 deaths, according to American Cancer Society projections.

The study appears in the Sept. 21 edition of the journal Nature. Fisher cautions that the study was done only in animals. Using a topical cream instead of the sun's rays, Fisher's team was able to switch on the tanning mechanism in the skin cells of fair-skinned mice, turning them into olive-skinned animals.

"This has not been demonstrated in people and there is a lot that needs to be proven before it's ready for even a first attempt in clinical subjects," Fisher says.

Even so, the study was called intriguing by Meenhard Herlyn, DVM, PhD, a tumor biologist at The Wistar Institute, a research center on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

"What he clearly has shown is ... you can induce a pigmentation, tanning, and the purpose is that people who are very susceptible to skin cancer, including melanoma, can be protected."

Continue reading, "Scientists Discover New Clues on Sun Tanning and Skin Cancer."

The study doesn't mean that its time for you to smear your skin with forskolin. As noted in the article, actually knowing what component works, and if it works consistantly, is years away. In the meanwhile, you should be sure to use sunscreens and other sun-protective measures, such as wearing a hat and long-sleeved clothing when out in the sun.

Cross posted from New Hope Blog

Posted by Richard at September 21, 2006 11:30 PM

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