In a scramble to develop effective treatments for Alzheimer’s, one team of researchers found that moisturizing the skin could cut the risks of developing dementia. Researchers at UC San Francisco made the announcement this week, explaining that the skin may be triggering body-wide inflammation that has been linked to numerous chronic diseases that come with aging.
Want to avoid developing these conditions? A good step would be to invest in a good moisturizer, which could help lower inflammation levels and potentially prevent age-related diseases, according to a new study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.
As we age, it is normal for the body to experience low levels of inflammation caused by an uptick in molecules called cytokines. Researchers believe that this age-related inflammation can trigger chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
At first, scientists thought the inflammation may be related to the immune system but now they think there is another culprit — the body's largest organ.
"The inflammation must come from an organ big enough that very minor inflammation can affect the whole body. Skin is a good candidate for this because of its size," said study senior author Mao-Qiang Man of the UCSF Department of Dermatology.
"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."
As we age, our skin starts to lose moisture and there is a deterioration of the permeability barrier, which keeps water in and bacteria and other pathogens out. The combination of the two factors result in the release inflammatory cytokines and eventually they reach the bloodstream.
Study lead author Theodora Mauro explained that, theoretically, there could be profound health effects if the inflammation was controlled through proper skin care. Scientists decided to put this theory to the test.
In the trial study, 33 older adults were given an over-the-counter skin cream that was formulated to help reverse age-related skin damage and stimulate skin repair. The study participants, from 58 years old to 95 years old, applied the cream all over their bodies twice a day for 30 days.
Researchers found that the cream actually reduced cytokine levels to nearly the equivalent of people in their 30s. Furthermore, the cream also improved skin hydration, lowered pH, and repaired the permeability barrier.
Armed with these results, scientists said they plan to conduct a longer, larger study to test if lowering cytokine levels with the cream can delay or prevent age-related inflammatory diseases.
"We're going to see whether using the cream to keep epidermal function normal as people age will prevent the development of those downstream diseases," said co-author Peter Elias of UCSF. "If we do, the implication would be that after the age of 50, you would want to be applying an effective topical barrier repair preparation daily for the rest of your life."
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