Question of the Week

Chameleon skin foods

Sun, 22nd Mar 2009

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Carlos, Panama asked:

Just as flamingoes are pink because they eat krill, penguins get the yellow spot on their face from the same source, would the same thing happen to humans?



We put this to Dr Stephen Juan, Ashley Montagu Fellow for Public Understanding of Human Sciences at the University of Sydney.

There are substances that can turn your skin different colours. One of the most famous ones is carotenemia which is when you eat too many carrots. Your skin can turn yellowish or orange. Itís a benign condition, doesnít seem to be related to anything  but if you eat too many carrots the beta carotene builds up in your system and you turn into the colour of a carrot: first a little yellow and then a little orange. There was an interesting study in 2006 in Paediatric Dermatology by Royal Liverpool Hospital that showed that carotenemia can come from eating green beans as well. There are other vegetables as well like yams itís been known to happen where the colour can change and some other fruits as well. Yes, you have to be very careful. Of course itís going to show up in lighter skinned people first but itíll happen to anybody. By the way, speaking of carrots the old question is what about carrots improving eyesight? Yes, carrots do improve the eyesight a little bit but only if you are vitamin A deficient to begin with.  


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I've heard that eating a lot of carrots "turns" your skin orange... does that count?
(and breathing lots and lots of CO2 turns you dead-grey)
;-) Emilio Romero, Tue, 17th Mar 2009

I remember watching John Craven's Newsround when I was little and seeing a boy who was orange through over-fondness with the aforementioned orange root vegetables... chris, Tue, 17th Mar 2009

haha the chik off of willy wonka found that out tha hard way! lol tony6789, Wed, 18th Mar 2009

This also occurred in the son of a neighbour through too many sweet potatoes. Er, that's yams for over the pond. dentstudent, Wed, 18th Mar 2009

Eating or breathing in silver can (if enough is ingested) cause a condition known as Argyria which can turn a person's skin blue or blue-grey - to my knowledge the condition is permanent. Hamstah, Wed, 18th Mar 2009

I attended the US Naval Nuclear Power School many years ago and shared a dormitory with loads of pre-nuclear nut cases.

One of them was changing to a strange Umpa-Lumpa orange colour over several weeks and was obviously getting unwell until one day he collapsed outside of class. The hospital physicians were completely puzzled by his condition. The doctors had sent someone to check out his room to see if there were any environmental causes. When they opened his dorm room they discovered an industrial size polythene bag half full of artificially coloured cheese-puffs and a refrigerator filled with beer. The student had finally admitted to the doctors that he was living off the cheese puffs and beer since school had started (about two months before). He eventually returned to school, albeit in a different graduating class than me. It took months before his colour became normal.

jameslo, Thu, 19th Mar 2009

That is a fantastic story - what was in the crisps for Heavens' sake? chris, Thu, 19th Mar 2009

Do not adjust the colour of your monitor: this poor devil really is blue/grey ...

BTW cheese puffs are coloured with carotene. RD, Thu, 19th Mar 2009

What we eat can surely affect the color of our skin.  About 25 years ago a good friend of mine consumed one quart of carrot juice daily because he thought it was good for him.  After a month or two, we all noticed that his skin developed a very distinct orange hue.  We still laugh about this and refer to it as his orange period.  He stopped drinking the carrot juice after this and his skin returned to a more normal shade after a while.

Drmallard drmallard, Sat, 21st Mar 2009 RD, Sat, 21st Mar 2009

And I just wonder what would happen if the krill ate the carrots... or the flamingos ate the carrots...  Emilio Romero, Mon, 23rd Mar 2009

The argyria thing. The funny thing is after you've taken lots of silver, you only develop the colour when you go out in the Sun.

As in both literally and figuratively develop the condition- it's the same photochemical reaction used in black and white photography!!! wolfekeeper, Wed, 25th Mar 2009

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