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Ask Tufts Experts July 2012 Issue

Q: Is there really a noninvasive test that can measure antioxidants in the body? Last week at my gym, a supplements-company representative said she could scan the levels of carotenoids in my body.

Answer :  C-Y. Oliver Chen, PhD, a scientist in Tufts’ HNRCA Antioxidants Research Lab, answers: “Yes, there is a non-invasive scanner that evaluates total carotenoid content in skin. A few articles published in medical journals show that there is a significant correlation between the score from the scanner and carotenoid contents in skin biopsies and blood accurately determined by a sophisticated analysis. Thus, due to its noninvasive nature, the skin scanning-based method is an attractive tool for assessing carotenoid status in humans.

“However, it should be noted that the score obtained by the skin scanner is unable to reflect statuses of other important antioxidants, such as vitamin C and E. Further, the scanner cannot differentiate accumulation of different carotenoids consumed in your daily diet, because the technology can only generate a collective measure of overall carotenoid content in skin. Since skin relatively favors accumulation of lycopene and beta-carotene especially as compared to lutein and zeaxanthin (all of which are types of carotenoids), the skin scanner cannot display the body status of the latter carotenoids, which have been found to benefit eye health and cognition.”

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