Can Eating This Fern Protect Your Skin From The Suns Damaging Rays?

Is it possible to take a pill that helps your body create its own natural sun protectant from within?

Forever and a day ago, Alicyn asked me for some input on the plant you see above – Calaguala. Is it really an all-natural sun protectant with built-in antioxidant properties?

With the sunny and warmer season fast approaching (for the umpteenth time since Alicyn asked me), it's time we had a proper look at this ingredient and see if it really can do what 'they say'.

Calaguala Leaf

Polypodium Leucotomos actually has several common names - among these: calaguala, cabbage palm fern, golden serpent fern, hare-foot fern, and there's more (but they're not as fun sounding as these).

This member of the polypodiaceae family is native to the Americas, growing in the subtropical and tropical regions. It flourishes from Florida to Paraguay, and throughout the Caribbean.

The plant has a history of use in folk medicine, functioning as a go-to herb for conditions ranging from asthma to heart disease. Despite its apparent long history of use, I haven't been able to ascertain whether or not the plant was/is used externally, internally, or both. There don't seem to be any folk medicine recipes or remedies available anywhere. If you have any info on this, please do leave a comment below.

And Now?

Lab tests in recent years have shown that, taken orally as an extract, this plant does indeed show promising results.

Cathy Wong, MD, writes that calaguala leaf extract taken internally "can significantly reduce sunburn severity and it may help prevent skin aging and decrease the risk of cancer from UV radiation..."

That really sounds promising, but the next part is also important:
"Larger trials are needed to confirm its effectiveness and to determine if there are any side effects at the required doses." (link to this quote)

I find the statement about testing for side effects particularly interesting. It is my impression that this kind of testing all too often seems to be an 'after the fact' effort in both the cosmetics and medicinal industries.

A Few Quotes about Calaguala With Links alternative medicine
have a positive spin on the product as a supplement and write 'Studies suggest', but the fact of the matter is, only a handful of tests have been done on humans.

explains that Calaguala 'might' have antioxidant effects'

is more positive and states that polypodium leucotomos 'provides significant protection of skin against UV radiation'

writes 'Oral administration of PL (polypodium leucotomos) is an effective systemic chemophotoprotective agent leading to significant protection of skin against UV radiation.'

Pub Med:
writes 'This invitro study supported use of this ingredient as an internal sun protectant'

LifeExtension has an article from 2010 here.
A note about LifeExtension: although they point to many studies in their articles and sales materials, I have on more than one occasion had the impression they are a touch too quick to assume 'if A, then B' when explaining why a certain cocktail of ingredients can be beneficial.


It looks like there's definitely something to be gotten from this plant in the way of sun protection, but we are looking at a helper – not a miracle worker.

To be fair, it really does take a miracle worker to remove dark spots. It is not possible to permanently remove dark spots – only fade them.

Even if you use a skin lightening product successfully, consequent exposure to the sun is going to bring the spots right back.

Why? Because fading spots isn't the same as permanently removing them.

To keep dark spots at a minimum, there's only one guaranteed method that everyone agrees works: stay out of the sun.

With that in mind, I hear wide brimmed hats are going to be all the rage this summer.

Photo of the calaguala fern above courtesy of Wikipedia


Beth said…
Hi Lisa!

Well, whilst the jury is still out on that one, you can indulge in heaps of fresh summer tomatoes, or other lycopene rich fruits and berries. Proven to be effective in providing uv protection, with no weird side effects, I bet it tastes better too <3
LisaLise said…
Hi Beth - Thanks for this info. Maybe a tomato paste with fern drizzled over the top will be the answer to all of our sun protection dreams. :)