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.

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Comments (7) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Michelle - July 2, 2010 11:10 AM

My dermatologist was pleased to see my orangey hands and feet! He said the coloration provides at least SPF 5 protection!

Elisa Rodriguez - July 2, 2010 12:50 PM

I always enjoy your posts Talia, thank you! It's an incredible concept: how properly nourishing our bodies can so effectively protect us across the board. Will you be at the health getaway with your family? If so, we may cross paths prior to a 100th b-day celebration!

ron - July 2, 2010 3:27 PM

excellent post. thanks

Emily Boller - July 2, 2010 4:12 PM

Wow, to think as a teenager I used to put on the tanning oil and climb up on top of a flat, metal shed roof on my parent's farm for the sole purpose of tanning (more like frying in a skillet.) Ouch. I cringe now just thinking about it.

Great instruction for us Talia.

Go greens. Go cruciferous vegetables. I'll make sure to invite you to my 100th birthday party as I plan to live the second half of my life undoing all the damage I did the first half. I plan to celebrate being a healthy centuriun!

Talia - July 2, 2010 7:37 PM

Thanks for the birthday invite Emily. You can come to my 100th too :) Elisa, I wish I could make it to the getaway this year, but I will be stuck in summer school taking organic chemistry. Fun stuff. I'll probably be at next year's getaway and many getaways to come, so surely we will meet before our 100th's! Have fun in San Diego. It looks spectacular!!!

Steve - July 2, 2010 8:20 PM

I read that most sunscreens contain chemicals that actually cause skin cancer and some claim that is why skin cancer rates really haven't improved but have actually become worse since the use of sunscreens has become popular. Perhaps there is some truth in that or maybe it's just that the standard American diet has continued to get worse.

Amanda - July 6, 2010 2:30 PM

This post couldn't have been more timely, Talia. I found ETL after I went through treatment for a melanoma at age 26 (!!!!) two years ago as a thin, non-sun-worshipping office worker. Luckily, mine was found when it was still stage 0. I was told that my chances for another were much higher than the normal population, and I couldn't accept the idea that it was practically inevitable that I would have another. Instead of sitting and worrying that I would develop another one, I began looking for a way to control my own fate. Luckily for me, I found ETL. When people ask me why I went nutritarian, I point to exactly what you've written here. I'm so happy you put into words what I've been saying since I discovered ETL. This will be sent to every relative and friend who thinks diet can't possibly help. Three cheers for the Fuhrmans! You've given me my life and happiness back.

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