Fruit for thought?

Adansonia digitata, also known as the Baobab tree or upside down tree, is a deciduous tree, found in most African countries south of the Sahara, and is often used as a symbol for the continent. It bears a unique fruit type – the pulp of the ripe fruit is dehydrated with a whitish powdery appearance and a slightly acidic taste.

The Baobab tree only starts bearing these wonderful fruits when they are about 200 years old. It can then bear fruit till the end of its lifetime which could be as long as 1500 – 2000 years! The sad thing is that, if we do not look after these trees, based on the current number of trees from which the fruit is harvested, the fruit might only be available for the next 500 years. The young Baobab trees are succulent and easily become food for goats, plant eating antelopes and rodents.

Our supplier, however, is a lady with vision! She is an ecologist, and having completed her P.Hd. recently on how to preserve these trees, she is currently encouraging and rewarding her harvesters in rural Limpopo to plant, protect and water these trees. Hoping to turn this venture into a social responsibility project with her direct and indirect stakeholders, she currently rewards each harvester by paying a fee from her own pocket for the first meter of growth, and then for every centimetre of growth until the tree reaches a height of 3 meters. Only once the tree has reached this height, it does not need protection anymore! She records each tree’s GPS coordinates to track the progress.

Baobab fruit has a high vitamin C content. Vitamin C is hydrophilic (water-loving) but unfortunately also unstable once it has been dissolved in water – it discolours from white to yellow. Adansonia digitata powder offers formulators and cosmetologists an opportunity to utilise the benefits of vitamin C in freshly prepared natural treatments such as facial masks without having to stabilise the preparation with additives or vitamin C derivatives.

The benefits of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is well known, but what you might not have known is that 100 g of baobab pulp provides up to 300 mg of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) – this is about 6 times more than one would normally find in one orange!

Besides its nutritional value, Baobab fruit powder is a powerful antioxidant due to its high vitamin C content. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, forms part of the complex group of enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants that coexist to protect the skin from reactive oxygen species (ROS). When the skin is exposed to UV light, ROS such as the superoxide ion, peroxide and singlet oxygen are generated. ROS have the potential to start chain or cascade reactions that damage the cells. The harmful effects of ROS occur as direct chemical alterations of the cellular DNA, the cell membrane and the cellular proteins, including collagen.

Oxidative stress triggers certain cellular events that lead to an increase in the enzyme, matrix metalloproteinase (MMP), which degrades collagen. Oxidative stress also leads to inflammation and skin ageing. Radical Oxygen Species also increase the elastin mRNA level in dermal fibroblasts which may explain the elastotic changes observed in photoaged skin.

Baobab powder also has indirect photoprotective properties. Due to its high vitamin C content, Baobab powder protects the skin from oxidative stress by neutralising the free radicals that form as a result of UV exposure – it is equally effective for both UVB and UVA protection. UVA radiation mostly penetrates into the dermis and mutates and destroys collagen, elastin, proteoglycans and other dermal cellular structures. This leads to skin ageing and even melanoma. UVB mostly affects the epidermis, leading to sunburn, the formation of radical oxygen species, epidermal mutations and ultimately skin cancer.

Vitamin C is known to stimulate, stabilise and regulate collagen biosynthesis using various mechanisms. Signs and symptoms of Scurvy (sailor’s disease), a deficiency disease of vitamin C, are due to impaired collagen synthesis. Clinical studies have shown that the topical use of vitamin C increases collagen production in young as well as aged human skin.

Because of its high vitamin C content, Baobab powder is instrumental in preventing hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C interrupts the key steps of melanogenesis by interacting with copper ions at the tyrosinase active site and, inhibiting the mechanism of the enzyme tyrosinase, hence reducing melanin formation. However, because of its potential instability, its performance can be enhanced by combining it with other melanin synthesis inhibitors.

By inhibiting the action of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines, the vitamin C in the Baobab powder has potential anti-inflammatory activity and can be used in conditions like acne vulgaris and rosacea. It has the potential to promote wound healing and prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

References

  1. Keys to unlocking the benefits of Vitamin C by Lawrence Samuels, MD, Skin Inc. Magazine, Dec 2013.
  2. Use of topical ascorbic acid and its effects on photodamaged skin topography by SS Traikovich, Archives of Otolaryngology Head Neck Surg., Oct 1999, 125(10), p 1091 – 1098
  3. Vitamin C in Dermatology by Pumori Saukar Telang, Indian Dermatology Online Journal, 2013, Apr – Jun, 4(2), p 143-146.