Study suggests pill reduces deep wrinkles
Beauty may be no more than skin-deep, but many of us think that leaves plenty of room for improvement. So a new dietary treatment that promises to shrink wrinkles from inside the skin is news.
The makers of the three-a-day capsules say they use blends of natural food extracts to activate genes that improve skin tone — and early results suggest they may be on the right track.
If the results stand up to scrutiny, the capsules will be the first anti-wrinkle treatment to show evidence of combating wrinkling from the deeper layers of skin. But they will not be the first to win scientific backing — some skin creams have been shown in peer-reviewed journals to help reduce wrinkles, according to an article in the British Journal of Dermatology.
Independent researchers said that the preliminary results are intriguing and commended the team developing the capsules for conducting a double-blind trial — testing them against a placebo with neither researchers nor recipients knowing until afterwards who had received what.
They say they will be skeptical, however, until a peer-reviewed journal has published the results in full, and acknowledge that attempts to erase the signs of aging don’t sit well with everyone.
The “gene food” treatment is the work of John Casey’s team at the laboratories of Unilever in Sharnbrook, UK. The multinational food, cosmetics and household products company commissioned four separate research groups to test the capsules, and 480 women in the UK, France and Germany who’ve passed menopause took part in the trials.
Proof of wrinkle reduction
Results show that in 14 weeks, “crow’s feet” wrinkles by the corner of the eye became on average 10 percent shallower in recipients of the capsules, shrinking by 30 percent in the best responders. The wrinkles of women who received a placebo did not change significantly in depth.
In one of the two French studies, researchers also took 4-millimeter-deep biopsies from 110 women before and after treatment to study the production of collagen — a protein that’s a key structural component of skin.
Antibodies that stain tissue red where new collagen is produced revealed that after treatment a fifth of recipients had significantly more fresh collagen in the deepest skin layer — the dermis — than those who had received a placebo.
More sensitive tests will be needed to ascertain any differences in the remaining biopsies, said Casey. Partial results were presented at the Society for Investigative Dermatology meeting in Atlanta, Ga. Casey said that the full data will now be sent to journals for peer review.
So how do these capsules work? As women age and estrogen production drops off toward menopause, enzymes called proteases become more active, reducing the sponginess of skin by clearing away collagen faster than it can be replaced. An estrogen receptor that aids the generation of collagen also becomes less active. The two effects combine to make skin less pliable and more wrinkly.
Casey’s team used skin cultures and gene activity tests to ascertain the effect of certain natural food extracts on “master” genes, which orchestrate the behavior of lots of other genes — in this case, those involved in collagen synthesis.
The blend that activated these genes most strongly included vitamins C and E plus isoflavones from soya, lycopene from tomatoes, and omega-3 polyunsaturated acids from fish oil.
Preliminary results from Unilever suggest that activating the master genes raises the activity of several other genes that make proteins vital for good skin tone, such as elastin, decorin and several anti-inflammatory molecules.
Already available in spas
Unilever launched the product in October at 44 spas it co-owns in the United Kingdom, Spain and Canada. It doesn’t need approval to sell the capsules from these countries’ regulatory authorities because the extracts they contain are already in use and the company does not claim that the capsules benefit health.
Although long-term tests have not been carried out, Gail Jenkins, another member of the team, recommends taking three capsules per day for at least three months. At this dose, she said, adverse side effects are unlikely. If a person stopped taking the capsules, the normal aging process would probably restore deeper wrinkles.
When New Scientist magazine sent the preliminary data to independent dermatologists, they gave a guarded welcome.
“The data are somewhat sparse, but they do appear to have done a pretty comprehensive study,” said Christopher Griffiths, professor of dermatology at the University of Manchester, UK, and co-author of a 2009 study confirming that an anti-aging cream produced by Boots, a British pharmacy chain, had anti-wrinkle effects.
Griffiths said he would be “unconvinced” until he had seen all the data, but was intrigued by the apparent repair of deep rather than superficial wrinkles.
“I know of no other study that has shown this before,” he said. A likely explanation, said Casey, is that creams penetrate only the top layer of skin — the epidermis. The contents of the capsules, by contrast, reach the dermis, stimulating the production of collagen in deeper layers.
Nichola Rumsay, of the Center for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England in Bristol, said that anti-wrinkle capsules are more psychologically benign than facial surgery, but they still reinforce the message that wrinkles are bad.
“We should be accepting wrinkles gracefully. Someone should develop a pill to stop people worrying about their appearance,” she said. “That would make people a lot happier.”
© 2011, New Scientist Magazine. Reed Business Information Ltd. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.