we call 'warts'. As an infection, they are transmissible, favouring sites of
mild skin trauma on the hands, face, knees, feet, and genital and perianal
areas. Very rarely, they may lead to squamous carcinoma.
Although orthodox medicine has no specific treatment for warts, there are a
large number of possible treatments, including salicylic acid, picric acid,
formaldehyde or podophyllin (all applied topically), as well as cautery,
curettage and cryotherapy (using liquid nitrogen).
Interestingly, it is often the case that one medical practitioner may be
successful while a colleague using the same treatment may fail (Solomons B.
Lecture Notes on Dermatology. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications,
1975, pp 143-9). There are also many folk remedies that may or may not work.
The story of vitamin A
The physiological effects and benefits of vitamin A have been discovered in
phases. The signs of deficiency of this vitamin were known more than a
century ago, and included a dry scaly skin, occasionally with papules and
warts (von Graefes Arch Ophthalmol, 1883; 29: 167). This was supported by
similar observations made later by others (Jahrb Kinderheilk, 1904; 59:
The discovery of vitamin A itself was made in 1904, when it became clear
that subnormal dark-adaption vision and systemic eye lesions improved with
the consumption of retinol- and retinoid-containing foods. These names were
derived from the word 'retina'; however, by 1917, they were collectively
referred to as 'vitamin A'. The realization that the vitamin had beneficial
effects on a number of cutaneous conditions was then confirmed by studies
where general skin lesions and eruptions were also markedly improved (J Hyg
[Camb], 1921; 19: 283-301).
Two studies reported on cases where the skin was dry and covered with flakes
of horny epithelium (keratomalacia), and the arms and legs had a
characteristic eruption of raised papules and "small skin protrusions of
cornified material"-in other words, warts. In all cases, the skin was much
improved by introducing a diet rich in vitamin A (Arch Ophthal, 1929; 2:
256-87; Arch Intern Med, 1931; 48: 507-14).
In East Africa and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the same skin conditions seen in
prisoners on a prison diet were cured by introducing a diet high in vitamin
A and no other treatment (Arch Derm Syphilol, 1933; 28: 700-8; Ind Med Gaz,
1933; 68: 681). In the UK, similar skin eruptions were described and cured
by a similarly modified diet (Br Med J, 1934; 2: 113-26), as were comparable
cases in the US (Am J Med Sci, 1938; 195: 644). More recently, on revisiting
these early observations in depth, their findings were once again
reconfirmed (Arch Dermatol Res, 1981; 270: 193-6).
Vitamin A has now been shown to stimulate and/or enhance numerous immune
processes such as cell-mediated immunity against tumours, natural killer
(NK)-cell activity, mono-cyte phagocytosis and antibody responses (JAMA,
1981; 245: 53-8; Fed Proc, 1973; 32: 947-51; Arch Surg, 1984; 119: 161-5; Br
J Cancer, 1984; 49: 343-8).
However, as warts are a viral infection, what is of particular relevance is
that vitamin A also demonstrates potent antiviral activity (Antimicrob
Agents Chemother, 1980; 17: 1034-7). Indeed, the Toronto Naturopathic Clinic
recommends applying vitamin A once a day-by breaking open a capsule (25,000
IU) and smearing the liquid onto the wart-as an effective treatment (see
www.naturopathyclinic.com/thehealthyway. php?id=74 for details), and
naturopath Dr Ben Kim makes a similar recommendation (see www.
The only caveat is to make sure that there are no open wounds or breaks in
the skin that would allow large amounts of vitamin A to be absorbed directly
into the bloodstream, as large doses of this vitamin can have toxic effects
in the body.
In my own practice, I have found that using this procedure usually takes two
to three months to work, and it replaces the need to supplement with vitamin
Harald Gaier, a registered naturopath, osteopath, homeopath and herbalist,
practises at The Allergy and Nutrition Clinic, 22 Harley Street, London, and
the Irish Centre of Integrated Medicine, Co. Kildare (www.drgaier.com).
More about vitamin A
Apart from skin health, vitamin A plays a role in a variety of bodily
functions, including gene transcription, immune function, vision, bone
metabolism, haematopoiesis (blood-cell production), antioxidant activity,
embryonic development and reproduction. Along with its precursor carotene,
vitamin A is present in many foods, especially those that are red/orange or
brightly coloured, including:
- liver (pig, chicken, mutton, turkey, goose, beef, duck)
- root vegetables such as sweet potato and carrot
- gourd vegetables such as pumpkin, gem squash and butternut squash
- green vegetables such as broccoli (leaves have much more than
florets), cabbage, bok choy, kale, collard greens, spinach, chard and
cucumber peel (but never eat this if it's waxed)
- fruits such as passion fruit (granadilla or maracuja), apricot,
mango, papaya (pawpaw), cantaloupe and honeydew melon
- seaweeds such as purple laver, Porphyra (better known as nori),
wakame (used in Japanese miso soup) and kombu (edible kelp)
- butter (made from goat's or cow's milk)
- eggs (duck, chicken, goose, quail, ostrich).
Vol. 20 08 November 2009