Dr Rozina Ali is a good choice to front an hour long review of the current developments in anti-agening research. She is a plastic surgeon who not only looks extremely good for her age, but is also a very good speaker. If she wrote her own script (and it sounded as if she had) she is also good at getting things across in a clear and easy to understand way. A dedicated follower of the scientific end of the beauty pool would not get much that was new from this programme, but it was a well put together enough to be enjoyable even so. And it is a great introduction for people who are a bit hazy about this sort of thing.
So what did it cover?
First off – the worst thing for your skin is sunlight. This was demonstrated by looking at how lorry drivers have skin that looks more aged on the side that faces the window. It is the high energy UVA radiation that does the damage. Obviously you can use a sunscreen. But there is the potential to create a sunscreen pill. This is based on a compound produced by coral that protects from sun damage. This is being investigated by scientists who believe that they’ll be able to use it to produce a waterproof sunscreen. As the fish that eat the coral also use the compounds’ sunscreen properties, it is possible that you could get the benefit from eating it. And as it protects against UVA, it ought to give a long term protection against the sun.
This is still at an early stage but it does look really interesting. A daily pill that prevents sun damage really does sound like something everyone should be taking.
The sun isn’t the only external factor making us look older. Oxygen in its free radical form is a menace as well, damaging DNA and disrupting cell structures. The body does have defences, but they aren’t efficient enough. You can help out by supplying anti-oxidants in your diet. There are four things to look out for.
1. Colourful foods like tomatoes. These contain compounds like lycopene that help in the struggle against free radicals.
2. Bitter tasting things like broccoli.
3. Eat lots of oily fish, rich in omega-3.
4. Avoid starchy foods like pasta.
That at least was the advice of a nutritional expert, who then rather spoiled it by pointing out that to get any significant benefit you’d need to eat kilograms of the vegetables suggested. Not many people find the prospect of chomping through large plates of green vegetables a very exciting one. But help is at hand. Unilever have developed a pill that concentrates the good bits. This has been shown to work in a large clinical trial about to be published in a proper peer reviewed journal. This must be close to being published because Dr Ali was shown looking through the pictures.
They didn’t look all that spectacular to me, but I guess any benefit from something as simple as a pill with vegetable concentrate in it has got to be a good thing. One of my cheeky Twitter chums, @featuresjourno identified the brand as Dove Strength Within, so now you know.
Another source of ageing pressure is sugar in the diet. Sugar reacts with collagen to make it more brittle. The implications of this became clear when a researcher showed his work. He had found that people with high blood sugar levels have skin that looks older than people with lower blood sugar levels. This was very interesting. I’ve heard the story about sugar causing wrinkles before. Many, many years ago in fact. The theory makes sense on paper, but this was the first time I’d heard the link made so clearly and convincingly.
The science of the way the body uses sugar is called glycobiology. This was described as a new science, though the study of sugars is not exactly new. But the way sugars can interfere with cell messengers turns out to be more important than you might imagine. The mighty Max Planck Institute has used deliberate interference with cell signalling to come up with a cure for malaria. L’Oreal are now using the same science to try to tackle wrinkles.
This does hold out the hope of not just of slowing down the signs of ageing, but actually to some extent reversing them. A big part of ageing is the degrading of collagen – if you could manipulate sugars to make the body switch collagen production back up to full level this might well significantly improve skin quality. It isn’t surprising that the well funded labs at L’Oreal are working intensely in this area.
This was where the programme went off the rails a bit in my opinion. It became rather a lot like a L’Oreal advert. I expected it to finish with the announcement that ‘you’re worth it’. This was a shame because otherwise it was very good.