Prevent Skin Cancer

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Although the most important risk factor for skin cancer is excess sun exposure, lifestyle factors are also important.

Is there a diet to keep skin healthy and protect against skin cancer?
“While chemopreventive agents including polyphenolic antioxidants found in green tea and grape seed extracts, isoflavones found in soybean extracts, and COX 2 inhibitors – such as aspirin and Celebrex® – are promising new ways to prevent skin cancer, diet is a controversial area,” according to dermatologist James M. Spencer, MD, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. “The question with dietary studies is whether the effect seen is the effect of nutrients, such as fat and carbohydrates, or non-nutrients that may only be present in trace amounts,” says Spencer. More studies are needed to determine the exact dietary strategies; in the mean time, the best preventive measure is protection from excess sun exposure.

Primary prevention:
• Avoid excess sun exposure (especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.).
• Limit sun exposure to 20 minutes daily or wear protective clothing such as a shirt and hat.
• Avoid tanning booths.
• Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) rating of 15 or greater with frequent reapplications.
• Schedule annual skin cancer exams with a dermatologist and have him or her show you how to do monthly skin examinations at home.
• Don’t smoke.
Secondary prevention:
• Eat from the rainbow. Eat a diet high in colorful fruits and vegetables for protective antioxidants and phytochemicals. Antioxidants such as vitamin A, C and E protect against sun damage by disarming wrinkle-causing free radicals.
• Eat a healthful diet of whole foods rich in antioxidants. Researchers at Monash University in Australia found that people living in sunny Greece, Australia and Sweden, whose diets were high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and olive oil and low in meat, desserts and high-fat dairy products had fewer wrinkles and less photoaging (sun-induced free radical damage).
• Sauté vegetables in olive oil or use olive oil and vinegar dressing on salads. Since many antioxidants in vegetables are fat soluble, monunsaturated fats such as olive oil may help increase the absorption of antioxidants. Of course olive oil should be used sparingly since it is calorie dense!
• Eat more carotenoid-rich foods such as cantaloupe, mango, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Researchers at the University of Arizona in Tucson found that carotenoids work like suncreen. Subjects with the most skin carotenoids had the greatest sun protection.1
• Eat a lowfat diet high in omega-3 fatty acids. Research indicates that people with a history of skin cancer who eat a lowfat diet (20% of calories) have reduced rates of subsequent precancerous and cancerous skin growths compared to those eating a high-fat diet. Although a few studies found fish oil supplements (up to 10 grams a day) to be sun protectors, eating high-omega-3 foods such as salmon, flaxseed and walnuts are preferred.
• Go Mexican with hot chili peppers. Researchers at the University of Texas recently revealed that specific compounds found in chili peppers – capsaicin and resiniferatoxin – killed skin cancer cells by starving them of oxygen.2

1. Am J Clin Nutr, Mar 2000
2. J of the National Cancer Institute, Sept 2002
For more information check out (American Academy of Dermatology)

By Sandy Sotnick, MS, RD

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