Craving the Color of Food: Intuition of the Healing Body
Have you ever craved specific colors of food? Likely. I know I have, but it wasn’t until I was on the way home from the beach one afternoon many years ago when I inferred that the reason I was craving tomatoes was likely because of the sun, somehow.
What I thought of next was when I used to go to Dewey Beach, DE a lot in my early 20s or Ocean City or any beach town really, and what restaurant is always packed there? The pizza joints or Italian restaurants! Why?
Well, I got home and pursued my questioning to see if my inference about the relationship between red tomatoes and the sun was there at all. It was.
Turns out, lycopene, one of several carotenoid phytonutrients, has been shown in many studies, see below, in both humans and other animals, to provide benefits against collagen breakdown and tumor expression in the skin after UV radiation from the sun. It’s good news!
I did not really think much beyond how lycopene helped to protect us against sun damage after that. It was common knowledge it destroys our DNA which is one of the reason for cancers, but I never really considered, why wrinkles? I was just interested in knowing how fascinating the body is in intuiting what it needs to heal itself – in this case, from sun exposure – and finds a way of letting us know too.
I’ve typically always been driven to food by what I crave believing that my body knows best what it needs, even when I may not understand.
The Science of Wrinkles and Crinkly Toes!
So I have been out and about in the sun a lot lately over the past month or so and had begun to get a great tan. I stay under my umbrella mostly because it’s so darn comfortable, and I know I’m still getting rays, but I do opt for the open blanket sometimes over the covered beach chair. Also, I’ve been out a lot exercising and exposing myself to the sun’s rays that way, too.
I have always been perplexed that my feet never seem to tan like the rest of my bod. I guess it’s the angle of them to the sun, but even when they have the most exposure, they still seem to keep a bit of a palor☹
I was looking down at my toes recently, and though my little pigs were white, I noticed they were crinkly, a bit like a French fry. Odd. Miss Crinkle toes! 😊 Why was that, I wondered?
Well, one thing I thought was that I considered I’d been out in the sun, and because they don’t seem to tan or burn, I never apply sunscreen to them. Besides, who has wrinkly toes!? Was it the sun exposure that was making them crinkly, I wondered? Yes, it likely was. I’d look into it!
I researched studies done on the specifics of sun and wrinkling, and yes! The sun causes wrinkles because it destroys our collagen – the connective protein fibers in our skin, tendons, cartilage and muscles which provides structure and elasticity. It is THE most abundant protein in our bodies, and when we are exposed to the sun, specifically the UVA rays, our body actually responds by programming certain enzymes to destroy it! Ouch.
I must have known that at some point, but the biology behind how is more interesting. Turns out, the sun’s UV rays trigger our DNA to make specialized proteins, enzymes, specifically, MMP-1, collagenases, to do their job, and destroy our collagen! Crike!
Why did I never know or realize this before, I don’t know. I love my enzymes – they are likely the most favored part of my body because without them, I would not function and would die😊 But on a less drastic note, they are specific to every chemical reaction in our body, and I am not looking to deliberately trigger the one’s designed to destroy my collagen to do so.
I panicked! What? I’m programmed to wrinkle when I go into the sun, literally? I didn’t know it was that bad. I was petrified to go back out. Long-shirts would be in my future as I went out. I’d already been feeling a bit burned and don’t like the thought of that. And, a V-8 for the ride over to the beach, for sure.
2 weeks or so I came home from the pool craving orange! Luckily, I had a lot. I ate and drank everything I had. Carrot juice, sweet orange peppers, and dried apricots. Though I had orange juice, that I was not craving. I checked into my craving online.
Turns out, beta carotene is another carotenoid, like lycopene. Lycopene acts differently scientifically in our skin, though. B-carotene acts as a precursor to Vitamin-A which promotes fibroblasts – connective tissue that produces collagen and contributes to healthy skin, whereas lycopene prevents enzymes from being produced that break itself down, essentially!
I must have known these things about the carotenoids before, but making sense of how they work scientifically and applying to my real life makes in all the more interesting, and fun! Being out in the sun basically serves to destroy our skin in a certain sense, and I needed the nutrients to make the fibroblasts I needed to make more connective tissue to repair what skin damage I’d caused by exposing myself to that light! Right? I love it!! Body, Brilliant!!
Back to Lycopene – The Sun & Tomato Cravings – The Body Intuitive
Turns out, lycopene, which is most abundant in tomatoes, inhibits the effects of MMP-1 collagenases. (Enzymes typically end in -ase, and often their prefix reflects the substrate on which they act. Another example, lipase. Lipases break down lipids, or fats).
Many studies support how lycopene, an MMP inhibitor, intervenes on our behalf prevting collagen breakdown and leading to wrinkles. I have included 4 different studies here, 2 of which discuss the aforementioned relationship between lycopene and MMP inhibition, 1 of which supports how topical MMP inhibitors reduce basement membrane destruction, in rats, which lead to wrinkles, and a final study which looks at lycopene’s impact on tumor formation in rats.
If you are interested in reading the whole study, click the titles. I give a brief conclusion of the author’s findings, as well as a breakdown on what they found.
- Title: Molecular evidence that oral supplementation with lycopene or lutein protects human skin against ultraviolet radiation: results from a double‐blinded, placebo‐controlled, crossover study
Conclusion: Assessment of gene expression revealed that UVB/A, as well as UVA1, radiation significantly upregulated steady‐state levels of HO‐1, ICAM‐1 and MMP‐1 mRNA in skin of volunteers who were either untreated or had been treated with placebo. In marked contrast, TNC (Fig. 3), as well as lutein (Fig. 4), treatment significantly inhibited UVB/A and UVA1 radiation‐induced gene expression.
The Breakdown: What this means is that when subject were exposed to different types of radiation, the genes for collegenases were turned on stimulating breakdown of collagen, but once supplementing with a lycopene-rich TNC (Tomato Nutrient Complex) or leutin, another cartotenoid, the genes that code for making the collagenases were inhibited after radiation, preventing the breakdown of collagen.
- Title: Lycopene inhibits matrix metalloproteinase-9 expression and down-regulates the binding activity of nuclear factor -kappa B and stimulatory protein-1
Conclusion: UVA irradiation of the human skin fibroblasts led to a 10–15-fold rise in metalloproteinase 1 (MMP-1) mRNA.
Lycopene and β-carotene did not protect on their own but in the presence of vitamin E, their stability in culture was improved and the rise in MMP-1 mRNA expression was suppressed, suggesting a requirement for antioxidant protection of the carotenoids against formation of oxidative derivatives that can influence the cellular and molecular responses.
The Breakdown: The difference here is that this study shows how Vitamin E is needed along with lycopene in order for mRNA not to express the MMP-1 protein collagenases. mRNA is made from DNA which in turn makes protein, or in this case, does NOT make protein, the collegenase.) This makes more sense because lycopene, along with other carotenoids, are fat-soluble, meaning they need fats in order to be absorbed.
- Title: Possible Involvement of Gelatinases in Basement Membrane Damage and Wrinkle Formation in Chronically Ultraviolet B-exposed Hairless Mouse
Conclusion: Topical application of a specific matrix metalloproteinase inhibitor, CGS27023A, inhibited ultraviolet B-induced gelatinase activity in the epidermis, and its repeated application prevented ultraviolet B-induced damage to the basement membrane, as well as epidermal hyperplasia and dermal collagen degradation. Ultraviolet B-induced wrinkles were also prevented by administration of the inhibitor. These results, taken together, suggest that ultraviolet B-induced enhancement of gelatinase activity in the skin contributes to wrinkle formation through the destruction of basement membrane structure and dermal collagen in chronically ultraviolet B-exposed hairless mouse, and thus topical application of matrix metalloproteinase inhibitors may be an effective way to prevent ultraviolet B-induced wrinkle formation.
Breakdown: Repeatedly applying a topical, non-specified MMP (collagenase) inhibitor – a cream that prevents collagen breakdwon – damage to the basement membrane of the dermal skin layer was not created, as a result, neither, then, were wrinkles.
Wrinkles are caused by damage to the basement membrane which can be mitigated by non-exposure to UV light or by exposure to an MMP inhibitor (such as lycopene😊) before exposure to UV light. Check out the electron microscopy photos, below, of the basement membrane before and after exposure to UV light over time. Recognize that wrinkled look?
Figure 1. Changes of basement membrane ultrastructure in UVB-irradiated mouse. Mouse skin was irradiated with UVB (total 5 J per cm2) for 10 wk. (a) Non-irradiated control skin. (b) Basement membrane began to separate from basal cells after 2 wk of UVB irradiation. (c) The basement membrane damage became more severe after 5 wk of UVB irradiation. (d) Many disruptions of basement membrane were observed after 10 wk of UVB irradiation. Scale bars: 1 μm.
- Title: Tomatoes protect against development of UV-induced keratinocyte carcinoma via metabolomic alterations
Conclusion: Overall, male mice that consumed tomato-containing diets developed fewer UVB-induced skin tumors compared to male mice that did not consume tomatoes.
The Breakdown: The conclusion, above, sums it up, but see graph below. The only significant difference in tumor development is in the rats fed a tomato diet with the lycopene, not a tangerine-tomato diet, even know they did develop fewer tumors, also.
So, what’s the take-away? Eat your tomatoes (puree – the best source of lycopene) or have a V-8 before you hit the beach or even go outside, and, make sure you take a tablespoon oil with it for fuller absorption and effective to mitigate those potentially damaging sun rays.
Eat what your body craves because it is often something your body needs. Our bodies are made to heal themselves, and can, as long as they have the nutrients they need to do it! Let your body work for you, not against you while you still engage in those outdoor activities you love. And, just for the record, keep applying sunscreen, too, for added sun protection. You skin, your largest and most visible organ, is one we want to keep looking young and supple for as long as possible.
I hope you find this helpful.