Why what you eat could change your skin

April 1, 2011 3:22:20 PM PDT
The main cause that most people think of for yellow skin is Jaundice, which is a condition from liver disease, but that is not the only condition that causes yellow skin.

A much less serious condition that can cause yellow skin is Hypercarotenemia.

Hypercarotenemia is the buildup of colored food pigments in the skin. Doctors are sometimes fooled by this harmless condition into thinking it is something more serious. However, they can diagnose it with just a couple of simple questions, rather than put a patient through a bunch of tedious and expensive tests.

Hypercarotenemia patient David Behar did not even notice that his skin was an odd color, until Dr. Albert Levy of Beth Israel Medical Center pointed it out to him.

"You see they're kind of orange and yellow?" Levy said. "Look, compared to mine."

Behar's cause for the condition is too much Beta Carotene in the blood. He drinks a lot of carrot juice. Carrots get their color from Beta Carotene, which is also, where squash, pumpkins and egg yolks get their red and yellow coloring.

Dr. Levy feels that although Hypercarotenemia is completely harmless, its yellow skin symptom can put a patient through unnecessary testing and stress.

"The doctor may want to do some tests to see if you have Hepatitis, Jaundice or another type of disease, but a simple blood test for Beta Carotene levels will diagnose this more benign condition," Levy said.

Vegetarians are a main group that can develop Hypercarotenemia since it is caused from Beta Carotene. Even though Behar is not a vegetarian, he does have a lot of Beta Carotene intake. The Beta Carotene in food is converted to Vitamin A, which can be toxic if it builds up.

The body does have a defense however. The protein in the blood that does the conversing, are quickly exhausted, so even if there is an overload of Beta Carotene, Vitamin A does not build up.

It may not show up in the bloodstream, but it shows up in the soles of the feet, the hands and the fold between the nose and mouth. There is no treatment needed for it. It is just cosmetic.

Behar does not plan to trade in his carrot juice for a little color change in his skin.

"I'm going to continue to drink carrot juice," Behar said. "I like carrot juice. I may cut down a little bit, but I'll keep drinking it."

The two questions that doctors should ask to diagnose Hypercarotenemia are do you eat carrots and are you a vegetarian. These two questions can save a lot of time and stress for the patient and doctor.

One other way to prevent mistaking Hypercarotenemia for more serious diseases such as Jaundice is the white of the eye. If the white of the eye is not yellow, that can help distinguish it from Jaundice, which does turn the eyes yellow.

Vitamin A levels may be a little high, but not toxic. Even though it is not toxic, it is linked to diabetes, thyroid problems and can be a factor in the loss of the menstrual period. Especially in vegetarians, so people should be wary of their Vitamin A intake.