If you've ever walked into an old bookstore and smiled after taking a deep breath, you've already experienced the benefits of vanillin, a synthetic version of vanilla extract. It's what gives old books that wonderful musty smell, and there are even candles that promise to recreate the scent. Of course, vanilla extract is mostly known for its food and beverage uses. We wouldn't have cream soda without vanillin, and it's used in perfumes, laundry detergent, candles and makeup. It's also used for medicinal reasons — drugs for Parkinson's disease and hypertension contain the chemical — but a new study says it could also be used to treat a common skin condition.
According to the study, synthetic vanilla extract could help prevent and treat psoriasis, a condition that causes itchy, dry rashes and scaly skin. It's a painful disorder caused by genetics, and it's also often stigmatized because people incorrectly assume it's contagious. Researchers from a number of Taiwanese universities and hospitals used vanillin on mice with psoriasis symptoms. Some mice were given oral doses ranging from one to 100 milligrams, while others were given none at all. The study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that the mice who received 50 milligrams or more had reduced psoriasis symptoms after a week.
We already knew that vanilla extract was versatile. Not only can it be added to your favorite dessert as you bake, but it also makes it pleasant to sniff an antique book. Still, it's wild to think that something as readily available as vanilla extract could provide significant relief for a major skin condition.
This could be a huge breakthrough for people who deal with psoriasis. The condition is incurable, and people who are diagnosed with psoriasis rely on salicylic acid, steroid creams and retinoids, all of which have harsh side effects. About 7.5 million people in the U.S. have the condition, with 150,000 new cases every year. Psoriasis sufferers are at risk for psoriatic arthritis, a form of arthritis that causes joint pain and stiffness. The National Psoriasis Foundation provides resources for people who have the condition, covering everything from dating and having a healthy sex life to handling depression — people with the condition are twice as likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression, too.
Because this study only tested on mice and it hasn't been tested on humans yet, there's still research that needs to be done, but the results are encouraging. Any scientific development that hints at relief is something that provides hope, especially if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with the condition.
"Our findings suggested that vanillin was an effective bioactive compound against psoriatic skin inflammation," the researchers say in their report.
They also say that vanillin helped regulate interleukins, the proteins that help out with cell growth and mobility. Basically, this super-versatile compound may prove even more useful than we thought. Organizations like the National Psoriasis Foundation are searching for a cure to the condition, but until a cure is found, chemicals like vanillin could prove super helpful, especially because it provides a solution that could have fewer side effects.
I've never had to deal with any skin disorders, but having seen friends deal with their own skin issues, I've seen the stigma that skin conditions bring. Skin conditions can have a significant emotional impact, and psoriasis is associated with an increased risk of suicide. This study has far-reaching implications, and it shows why it's important to look for a cure to psoriasis and other hard-to-treat disorders.