Natural Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer: Part 1

by Jonathan V. Wright, MD (ND, hon)

At present, we all live on planet Earth, which circles a small star – the Sun – which shines on us very often when we’re outdoors (except here in Seattle and a few other places). Anthropologists and archaeologists have found that our remote ancestors were born in the very sunniest regions of this Earth and spent nearly all their days outdoors – although for most of that time, there were no doors to be “outdoors” of!

The Bible says the Garden of Eden was in a sunny tropical area, too. In the beginning, Adam and Eve didn’t even need to wear clothes! Whether evolved or created, this much is clear: as descendants of the original human inhabitants of planet Earth, our bodies are “built for sunshine”! The sun is actually good for us unless we ignore our senses and allow ourselves to get sunburned.

It’s summer here in Seattle and you’ve likely been hearing you should cover yourself and your family with SPF-maximum sunscreen so you won’t “get cancer.”

Think about it – have you seen proof that sunscreens actually prevent skin cancer? Where are all the TV commercials showing that more sunscreen use leads to less cancer? In fact, the situation is just the opposite. In the 1920s, well before sunscreen use “took off,” skin cancer incidence was low. If you draw a line on a chart following the rise in skin cancer in these United States since the 1920s, you’ll see steady upward progress every year, every decade… which also precisely describes the growth in use of sunscreen! The two lines parallel each other on the chart!

No, a chart showing “more sunscreen use, more skin cancer” doesn’t prove that sunscreens cause cancer – it could be a coincidence, for example, or both could be caused by some third factor – but it suggests that sunscreens really don’t prevent much skin cancer at all.

Let’s look for the real cause of most skin cancers. Dr. Niva Shapira has given us the facts to do that! Nutrition Reviews1 published her research review – 7½ pages, with an impressive 149 references – which point directly to the major culprit behind the large majority of skin cancers: poor diet! Yes, there’s yet another health problem to add to the long, imposing list of poor-diet-related ailments and diseases.

Greece – yes, sunny Greece – has one of the lowest rates of the worst sort of skin cancer – melanoma – on Earth. But Greeks who emigrate to Australia and transition to a “Western” diet (instead of the native Greek “Mediterranean” diet) develop a “Western” disease pattern – including much more melanoma. Dr. Shapira writes: “Adherence to a Mediterranean diet has been shown to decrease melanoma incidence and increase survival among populations in non-Mediterranean countries, such as the United States and Australia.”

By contrast, Australians of Greek ethnic background who consume the “standard Australian diet” (SAD) which is just as bad as the “standard American diet” (also SAD) have one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world. Dr. Shapira tells us, “This suggests that the dietary benefits, as well as the disadvantages of non-adherence [to the diet], may be geographically transferable.” Translated to simpler English: “It’s not where you live, it’s what you eat that keeps you healthy – or contributes to illness.”

What aspects of the Mediterranean diet appear to be the most protective? Fish, shellfish, high consumption of vegetables (particularly carrots, tomatoes, and cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, and others), fruits (particularly citrus), tea, and low alcohol consumption. By contrast, dairy products, butter, and alcohol allow for significantly more ultraviolet-associated skin damage and cancer.

While getting our nutrients from what we eat is always best, supplements can also protect against UV-related skin damage and skin cancer. In an experiment at the Baylor College of Medicine, two groups of rabbits were regularly exposed to ultraviolet light. One group was given a “balanced diet” without vitamins, while the other group was given the same diet with added vitamins A, C, and E. After twenty-four weeks, none of the animals in the diet-plus-vitamins group developed skin cancer, while 24% of the animals in the diet-alone group developed skin cancer.2

In addition to vitamins A, C, and E, there’s a more extensive list of nutrients found to reduce UV-associated skin damage and cancer. Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene have been found to protect against UV-associated skin damage individually and as components of diet. These three carotenoids also reduce the degree of skin redness associated with sunshine overexposure.

Beta-carotene specifically reduces melanoma risk and works together with vitamins A, C, and E for a “multiplier effect.” Lutein protects skin cells against both oxidative damage and genetic damage. UV-exposed skin protected with lutein actually shows less cell loss, less damage to the membranes of cells, and less damage to elastic tissues. Lutein also combats suppression of the immune system. Lycopene content of skin is directly associated with skin roughness: more lycopene in the skin, less skin roughness; less lycopene, more skin roughness.3

According to Dr. Shapira, one group of researchers found that an oral lycopene supplement reduced the count of sunburned cells by 83% compared with no lycopene intake for the same duration of sun exposure. She cites another research group reporting a 40% reduction in sunshine-caused redness in individuals consuming just 16 mg of lycopene (found in three tablespoonsful of tomato paste or in many supplements) and two teaspoons of olive oil per day.

Beta-carotene is found in the highest concentrations in carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkins, spinach, kale, collard greens, and nearly any other yellow or orange vegetable. Lutein levels are exceptionally high in spinach and kale, and relatively high in peas, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, pistachios, broccoli, and corn. Lycopene is the red pigment found in tomatoes, and is actually most bioavailable from tomato paste, tomato sauce, and ketchup (sugar free, please). There’s also a high lycopene content in watermelon, pink guava, and papaya.

Next month in Part Two of “Natural Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer,” we will dive deeper into the nutrients that specifically protect against cancer formation induced by UV radiation. In the meantime, follow a high vegetable diet with a focus on bright yellows and deep greens, and be sure to read your body’s signs and seek shade when your skin starts to turn pink in the sunshine. See you in August!

Excerpted from Dr. Wright’s “Green Medicine Newsletter”,

A Harvard University and University of Michigan graduate, Dr. Jonathan V. Wright is a pioneer in the field of nutritional biochemistry. He established Tahoma Clinic in Washington State in 1973, dedicated to treating health conditions by natural means with protocols developed from over 50,000 medical articles on natural substances and energies. Dr. Wright has authored (or co-authored) thirteen books, with two texts achieving best-selling status, and numerous medical articles.

1. Shapira N. “Nutritional approach to sun protection: a suggested
complement to external strategies.” Nutr Rev 2010; 68(2);75-86.
2. Black H S. “Effects of dietary anti-oxidants on actinic tumor induction.” Res CommChemPath Pharmacol 1974;7:783.
3. Darvin M(1), et al. “Cutaneous concentration of lycopene correlates significantly with the roughness of the skin.” Eur J Pharm Biopharm. 2008 Aug;69(3):943-7.