Summertime is great for spending time outdoors in the sun. But if you slather on sunscreen before heading outside, I would strongly encourage you to learn why this might not be a good idea. Most sunscreens contain a host of toxic chemicals and block your body’s absorption of Vitamin D–a powerful cancer-fighting agent.
So if sunscreen doesn’t protect us against skin cancer, what will?
Fighting Skin Cancer by ‘Feeding’ your Skin
Professor Georgiana Donadio, director of the National Institute of Whole Health in Boston, says that feeding your skin from the inside out gives you the best outcomes.
“Your skin is the fingerprint of what is going on inside your body,” she says, “and all skin conditions, from psoriasis to acne to aging, are the manifestations of your body’s internal needs, including its nutritional needs.”
“It’s not a matter of running out and spending a lot of money on vitamins,” she adds. “The idea is to use them in a very intelligent way that’s healthful to you. But don’t ever think they are the whole answer to dealing with a health problem, particularly aging skin.”
The same applies to preventing skin cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends getting cancer-fighting nutrients from whole food sources rather than supplements because studies have found isolated compounds and whole food sources of nutrients have very different effects on cancer.
ACS says that oxidative damage has been linked to increased risk of cancer and studies seem to show that diets rich in antioxidants such as carotenoids, vitamins C and E and other phytonutrients seem to lower risks.
Orange foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin & cantaloupe contain cartenoids which can reduce sunburn and wrinkles. Citrus fruits contain quercitin. Spinach & kale are high in lutein, and tomatoes & red peppers contain lycopene.
Berries are the fruits highest in antioxidants. A study in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry found berries an easy winner in the amount of antioxidants for the price. As an added bonus, berries also tend to be lower in sugar than other fruits.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish suppress and slow cancer growth in animal studies and are linked to reduced risk of heart disease.
A healthy balance of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 is essential. Too many omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (from sunflower, safflower and other vegetable oils) will work their way to the skin’s surface, where sunlight oxidizes them. This creates dangerous free radicals which will damage DNA, leading to aging of the skin and skin cancer.
Studies published in the 1996 Journal of the American Medical Association reported that selenium supplements reduced risk of death from skin cancer by 50% and resulted in 37% fewer malignancies. Selenium supplements should be taken in moderation though. Your best bet is to consume it from whole food sources like brazil nuts, walnuts, free-range chicken or grass-fed beef.
Tea contains many powerful antioxidants. Kingston University researchers recently tested 21 plant and herb extracts for their potential health benefits in 2009. They were surprised to find that white tea was the best performer.
White tea prevented the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin and suppressed enzymes associated with inflammation and some cancers.
What most of us don’t realize is that vitamin A in supplements is usually toxic. Taking in beta carotene (from foods such as carrots, pumpkin & sweet potatoes) and letting your body convert it is your best bet.
Biotin is the B vitamin that is the basis of skin cells. Deficiencies are rare because it’s in many foods such as bananas, eggs, and rice and our bodies make some on their own.
In 2008 University of Sydney researchers found that nicotinamide (vitamin B3) can protect the immune system and prevent UV damage to the skin. B3 is found in meats (like grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and venison), salmon and nuts.
Many studies, says ACS, have found that vitamin C in fruits and vegetables lower the risk of cancer, but no studies had shown that vitamin C supplements reduce cancer risk.
However, a recent study by scientists at the University of Leicester and Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology in Portugal has found that vitamin C supplements may protect skin cells.Skin cells in culture were exposed to sunlight and vitamin C and the scientists found evidence that the supplement seems to help clean up DNA damage done by the sun.
Citrus fruits and vegetables such as bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and leafy greens contain vitamin C.
Vitamin D is inextricably linked to your overall health. Your best source of Vitamin D is from the sun. It may surprise you to hear that the sun itself does not necessarily cause skin cancer, but can help prevent it! Other good sources of vitamin D are salmon and eggs.
Vitamin E has long been touted as a skin treatment, but supplementing with large doses of vitamin E can be harmful. It naturally occurs in asparagus, olives, nuts, seeds and spinach.
I like the way author Raymond Francis puts it when he says, “Unless you do something foolish, the sun will not cause disease in healthy people who have adequate amounts of nutrients like carotenes, lycopene, essential fatty acids, and vitamins A, C, E, and zinc and selenium.”