Good eating is skin deep
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..
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.