by Jonathan V. Wright, MD (ND, hon)
In Part One of “Natural Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer,” we discovered that sunscreens don’t really prevent that much skin cancer at all! It’s not where you live or the amount of sun exposure you get, it’s what you eat that keeps you healthy and helps prevent cancer cell formation. Vitamins A, C, and E and nutrients such as beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene have been found to reduce ultraviolet-related skin damage and cancer. Are there more ways we can protect ourselves from the damaging effects of the sun?
Next on our extensive list of protectors against UV damage are flavonoids and polyphenols, which have been found specifically to protect against cancer formation induced by UV radiation. These include epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from green tea, theaflavins and thearubins from black tea, caffeine (yes, caffeine), flavonoids from citrus peel, proanthocyanidins, and other polyphenols from grape seeds, red wine, and cocoa.
EGCG reduces gene mutation frequency and aging in human skin fibroblasts (collagen producers in skin) exposed to both UVA and UVB over long periods of time. Black tea and green tea polyphenols both protect against UVB tumors, with black tea polyphenols offering the best protection. One study showed that higher levels of tea consumption were associated with lower levels of both basal and squamous cell cancers.
Citrus peel flavonoids have been found to protect against squamous cell cancer, and when they’re combined with black tea, the protective effect is even greater. Polyphenols from cocoa significantly protected against UV-induced erythema, although the effect was found to be less protective than that of lycopene.
Resveratrol, proanthocyanidins, and polyphenols (all found in red grapes) each inhibit skin cancer induced by UV. And, like citrus peel flavonoids and black tea, they work even better when they’re used together. These nutrients have all been found to work by helping conserve internally produced antioxidant enzymes and glutathione (a major antioxidant), suppress the oxidative effects of internally produced peroxide and nitric oxide, and inhibit UV-induced cell death.
In addition to the foods noted above, many herbs, spices, and seasonings – including rosemary, oregano, thyme, and garlic – are rich in polyphenols that protect against UV radiation.
Almost all B vitamins offer protection against skin cancer. However, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) actually might make UV risk greater for skin cells unless vitamin C is supplemented. But other B vitamins are protective against UV damage, including methylfolate (the most active and preferable form of folate), which inhibits UV-induced breaks in DNA. Folate is extremely sensitive to breakdown by UV, so if you’re exposed to more than a little sun, consider using a methylfolate supplement, as folate in food breaks down more rapidly than nearly any other nutrient.
Last on the list (for now) are fish oil and olive oil. Fish oil (the best source of omega 3 fatty acids) significantly reduces UV-induced suppression of the immune system and cancer induction. By contrast, omega 6 fatty acids (the highest amounts of which are found in vegetable oils) are associated with UV-induced DNA damage and tumor growth. Studies show a trend toward lower risk of squamous cell cancers and melanoma with higher ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
Olive oil, which is high in omega-9 and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, helps slow signs of skin aging and protects against skin cancers. It also contains the antioxidants hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein, which protect against UV-induced pro-cancerous activity.
Nutritional scientist Dr. Niva Shapira published a research article which reaffirms that staying out of the sun is not at all your best protection against skin cancer. In fact, it could do more harm than good. Dr. Michael Holick (Professor of Medicine, Dermatology, Physiology, and Biophysics at Boston University Medical Center) has written that for every case of skin cancer eliminated by sun avoidance, there are twenty or more cases of prostate or breast cancer caused by sun avoidance and the ensuing lack of sun-induced vitamin D.
If you want to minimize your risk of skin cancer, don’t bother to use sunscreen. Studies show that since the 1920s, skin-cancer risk and sunscreen use have risen together at nearly the same rate! While this doesn’t prove that sunscreen causes skin cancers (although there are preliminary indications that this is a possibility), it does show that sunscreen doesn’t prevent skin cancer.
Use common sense! If you or your children have had enough sun—your body will tell you that when your skin begins to turn even slightly pink – head for the shade, cover up with clothing, or use sunscreen at that point (natural only is preferred, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide rather than chemically active ingredients).
But your best bet for minimizing skin cancer risk is simply to eat right! Eat fish; cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, and others; olives and olive oil; tea; tomatoes, tomato paste, and sauce; carrots; peas; sweet potatoes and yams; pumpkin; spinach, kale, and collard greens; fruit, particularly citrus, red grapes, watermelon, guava, and papaya; as well as cocoa (no sugar, please, try stevia instead) and rosemary, oregano, thyme, and garlic. When at all possible, choose organic!
While eating and drinking all of these things will likely minimize your risk of skin cancer, if you want “insurance” (especially during the sunny months in your area) you might consider a specific combination supplement based on Dr. Shapira’s research which contains all or some of the types of nutrients listed above.
Excerpted from Dr. Wright’s “Green Medicine Newsletter,” available at greenmedicinenewsletter.com.
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 coauthored) thirteen books, with two texts achieving best-selling status, and numerous medical articles.