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Know your nutraceuticals


Nutraceuticals and the claims that these products make have become increasingly popular on a global basis, according to an expert who spoke at MauiDerm 2014.


Nutraceuticals and the claims that these products make have become increasingly popular on a global basis, according to an expert who spoke at MauiDerm 2014.

Pearl E. Grimes, M.D., director, Vitiligo and Pigmentation Institute of Southern California, Los Angeles, spent time educating attendees on various nutraceuticals and their benefits for hyperpigmentation and aging.

The term nutraceutical derives from the terms nutrition and pharmaceutical. These are oral products, derived from food sources that claim to prevent chronic disease, improve health, retard aging and increase life expectancy, she said. She reviewed the evidence base for several popular nutraceuticals:


Glutathione is considered the master antioxidant in the body. It is synthesized from cysteine, glycine and glutamine. It’s a major endogenous antioxidant produced by cells. Glutathione functions to inhibit oxidation of other molecules, thereby preventing free radical damage.

Dr. Grimes pointed to a study from Thailand, in which 500 mg of oral glutathione, administered daily for four weeks, significantly improved hyperpigmentation. She added that new data will be coming out soon in which glutathione was evaluated in the treatment of melasma.

Glutathione can upregulated by taking oral alpha-lipoic acid or n-acetyl cysteine, as well as by eating cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus. All of these increase natural endogenous glutathione levels, she said.


Astaxanthin is a component of krill oil. It is a potent cell membrane antioxidant that comes from the carotenoid family. It has significant benefits for anti-aging, which include:

  • anti-inflammatory effects

  • immune modulating properties

  • mitochondrial protection

  • improves circulation

  • enhanced memory functions

  • photoprotection

“Astaxanthin has been shown to have even more powerful antioxidant properties than vitamin C, beta carotene and even vitamin E,” Dr. Grimes said. It also has been shown to induce improvement in freckles and hyperpigmentation.

Cosmetic benefits have been demonstrated, as well. She cited a study that reported on two human clinical trials, the first in which 30 healthy female patients were given a 6 mg oral supplement and a 2 mL topical, daily for eight weeks. It resulted in improvements in crow’s feet, elasticity, hyperpigmentation and hydration. The second study included 36 healthy male patients who were treated for six weeks. There was improvement in crow’s feet, elasticity and transepidermal water loss. The results suggested astaxanthin may improve skin condition in men and women.

Dr. Grimes noted that fish oils have anti-inflammatory effects. She pointed to an epidemiology study of the dietary habits of 1,119 adults in Queensland, Australia. It found that actinic keratoses decreased by 28 percent (relative ratio: 0.72; 95 percent confidence interval: 0.55, 0.95) among those who consumed an average of one serving of oily fish every five days.

Finally, Dr. Grimes mentioned that there are several plant-derived products that have photoprotective benefits, including caffeine, lycopene, green tee and curcumin.

“I think that this is an exciting area because as we look at our health in general, we are what we consume,” Dr. Grimes said. “I would love to see more hard science in this area, and I think eventually we will have substantially more evidence-based data looking at the science of oral agents in the aging/hyperpigmentation process.”

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