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Skin Could Play a Major Role in Chronic Diseases

KEEPING skin moisturised and in good condition could decrease the risk of several chronic conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), California, USA carried out a small pilot study that focussed on the role of the skin in chronic diseases, based on the knowledge that as skin ages, there is an increase in inflammation, which has a proven relationship with conditions such as osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study involved 33 participants aged 58–95. At study commencement, three specific age-related cytokine levels were measured: interleukin-1 beta, interleukin-6, and tumour necrosis factor alpha. For the following 30 days, participants carried out two daily, full-body applications of moisturiser containing three lipids: cholesterol, free fatty acids, and ceramides. After the 30-day period, cytokine levels were measured again. All three cytokine levels saw reductions, which brought them to lower levels than that of a control group of similar aged adults, with the authors stating that the participants had similar cytokine levels to those aged within their 30s.

As humans age, inflammation in the body increases, a process known as inflammaging that is driven by cytokines. Previously, inflammaging was thought to be caused by the immune system or the liver, but the researchers from UCSF believe the skin could play a major role. With age, water is harder to retain which creates small cracks in the skin, leading to cytokine release, as these repair cracks in younger skin. Dr Mao-Qiang Man, a researcher at UCSF, discussed the elevation of cytokine levels in older patients: “Once we get old, we have dermatological symptoms like itchiness, dryness, and changes in acidity. It could be that the skin has very minor inflammation, and because it’s such a large organ, it elevates circulating cytokine levels.”

While this study offers promising results, the authors recognise the need for further study with a larger sample size. They will need to confirm these results and also prove the long-term benefit of a reduction in cytokine circulation. Two of the researchers are also consultants for the company that produces the moisturiser used in this study, a factor that must also be taken into consideration.

Dr Theodora Mauro, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA, concluded: “[d]ecreasing inflammation simply by treating the skin dysfunction seen in ageing could have profound health effects.”