Sun shines on new research -- and it's not to be sneezed at

Two of those great summer scourges — sunburn and hayfever — could be treatable with functional ingredients, new research shows.

In a meta-analysis of seven clinical studies, German scientists said oral supplementation with beta-carotene could protect the skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays.

The research was carried out by Professors Wolfgang Köpcke and Jean Krutmann, from Münster University Hospital and the Institut für Umweltmedizinische Forschung in Düsseldorf, Germany, respectively.

In a paper published in Photochemistry and Photobiology, the researchers said 10 weeks of supplementation were required to produce a protective affect against sunburn.

While offering less powerful and immediate protection than sunscreens, nutritional protection could provide a good basis for an overall long-term anti-sunburn strategy, added Krutman. "A combination of beta-carotene and other antioxidants taken orally might be used to provide a low level of ongoing protection. This should be increased by the ad hoc topical application of sunscreens for occasions when the skin is likely to be exposed to strong sunshine for longer periods."

Meanwhile, separate research has established that a probiotic drink a day could help keep hay fever away. A small study, part funded by active health drinks supplier Yakult, found that consuming a daily drink containing the Lactobacillus casei strain of bacteria could change the immune system's response to grass pollen, a common cause of allergies, and balance antibodies in a way that may provide relief to people with the condition.

"These data show that probiotic supplements modulate immune responses and may have the potential to alleviate the severity of symptoms," Claudio Nicoletti and colleagues at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, UK, reported in Clinical and Experimental Allergy.

In the study, volunteers with a history of seasonal allergies drank a daily milk drink with or without Lactobacillus casei over a five-month period. Researchers took blood samples before the grass pollen season, at its peak and after the end of season. They found that people who had been drinking the probiotic drink had lower levels of an antibody that helps produce allergy symptoms.

At the same, these people also had higher levels of a different antibody, called IgG, which may play a protective role against allergic reactions.

"The probiotic strain we tested changed the way the body's immune cells respond to grass pollen," Kamal Ivory, a researcher who worked on the study, told Reuters.

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