Tomatoes protect skin against sun damage

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., affecting one out of every five Americans, and its incidence is rising. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is responsible for the development of most skin cancers and also skin aging. [1]

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun exerts these aging and carcinogenic effects on the skin via oxidative stress, inflammation, and damage to DNA. As such, there has been much interest in the scientific community in using antioxidants from plant foods to protect against this damage. Photoprotection has been previously demonstrated in animal studies by multiple antioxidant supplements, including green tea catechins, proanthocyanadins, resveratrol, and silymarin. In addition to their antioxidant effects, these substances can also absorb UV radiation (when applied topically), enable DNA damage repair, and reduce inflammation. [2]

Tomato. Photo credit: Mr. T in DC (Flickr)

Lycopene, well-known for its prostate cancer-protective effects, is a carotenoid antioxidant present in red and pink fruits such as tomato, grapefruit, and papaya. It is especially concentrated in cooked tomato products like tomato paste. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that in vitro has been shown to prevent or repair damage to DNA that potentially leads to cancer development. Lycopene also stimulates production of antioxidant enzymes, inhibits signals that promote tumor progression, and promotes programmed death of cancerous cells. [3]

Researchers recently tested whether the antioxidant actions of lycopene in tomato paste could lessen the skin-damaging effects of UV radiation in human subjects. A group of healthy women consumed tomato paste daily for twelve weeks, and their skin’s reddening response to UV light was measured at the beginning and end of the study. After twelve weeks of tomato supplementation, the skin’s resistance to UV-induced reddening was enhanced. The tomato paste supplementation also resulted in reduced mitochondrial DNA damage and reduced activity of an enzyme that degrades the skin’s extracellular proteins, a process that contributes to skin aging. These results suggest that regular tomato consumption can help to reduce the skin-damaging effects of the sun. [4]

Tomatoes are rich not only in lycopene but in thousands of other protective compounds, both discovered and undiscovered, that likely have powerful heart disease- and cancer-preventive effects. Be sure to eat both fresh, raw tomatoes and cooked tomatoes to get the full spectrum of tomatoes’ phytochemicals.

 

References:

1. Skin Cancer Foundation: Skin Cancer Facts. October 14, 2010]; Available from: http://www.skincancer.org/Skin-Cancer-Facts/.
2. Nichols, J.A. and S.K. Katiyar, Skin photoprotection by natural polyphenols: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and DNA repair mechanisms. Arch Dermatol Res, 2010. 302(2): p. 71-83.
3. van Breemen, R.B. and N. Pajkovic, Multitargeted therapy of cancer by lycopene. Cancer Lett, 2008. 269(2): p. 339-51.
4. Rizwan, M., et al., Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photodamage in humans in vivo. Br J Dermatol, 2010.

 

Good eating is skin deep

Sunbather

Skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the United States.   Every year, over one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer. Given the thinning of the ozone layer around the earth and the increased potential for skin cancer with “normal” sun exposure, clearly, we must minimize our skin cancer risk by applying (non-chemical) sunscreen, avoiding tanning beds and limiting the amount of hours we spend in the sunlight. What most people are not aware of however, is the power of a high nutrient diet in the prevention of all types of skin cancer. Cancers, in general, can only flourish in the body when cells that undergo free radical damage and the subsequent DNA damage, are unable to be repaired by the cell’s DNA monitoring and repair tools. 

Natural, plant based foods are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals, substances that are needed for these repair mechanisms to function most optimally.   If one’s diet is low in vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds, the body will not be supplied with enough micronutrients for its cells to defend itself from oxidative damaged caused by UV radiation. Nutrients penetrate every cell in the body and are needed in every cell, including skin cells. Oxidative damage caused by free radicals from sunlight exposure can be opposed when a healthful diet rich in antioxidants is consumed. Vegetables, both raw and cooked, offer much needed protection from skin cancer, as they would for other cancers. Green vegetables, most notably the cruciferous variety, win the competition for cancer defending properties. The concept of consuming a high-nutrient, plant based diet has been supported in a recent study conducted in Australia. Researches analyzed the diet, skin color, and sunlight exposure of 1,360 adults, aged 25-75, who participated in a community-based skin cancer study from 1992-2002. Two main eating patterns were identified: a meat and fat pattern and a vegetable and fruit pattern. Not surprisingly, the meat and fat pattern diet was positively associated with development of skin cancer, and even more strongly associated in participants with a skin cancer history. Increased consumption of the vegetable and fruit dietary pattern reduced skin cancer occurrence by 54%, with the protective effect mostly attributed to the consumption of green, leafy vegetables. In conclusion, the researchers deemed that a dietary pattern characterized by high meat and fat intakes increases skin cancer odds, while a dietary pattern characterized by higher consumption of green vegetables decreases it. 

While enjoying summer days out by the pool this summer, remember not just to apply a non-chemical sunscreen, but to fill up on those ever remarkable and delicious fruits and veggies. And, don’t forget to invite me to your 100 year old birthday party..

 

Reference:

Ibiebele TI, van der Pols JC, Hughes MC, et al. “Dietary pattern in association with squamous cell carcinoma of the skin: a prospective study.” Am J Clin Nutr 2007; 85(5):1401-8.