Research suggests that YES, what you eat can have an impact on skin cancer.
As a person who burns easily and has lots of moles and freckles, I’m quite conscientious of my sun exposure. I’m constantly applying sunscreen to myself and my family (every few hours). I limit UV exposure while UV rays are at their worst (UV index of 3 or higher). And am constantly checking on everyone’s moles.
But even with all that, there is still more that can be done. Because according to recent research, foods high in certain nutrients can actually help aid in the fight against skin cancer.
Now, this isn’t just for people who are fair like me. No matter the shade of your skin or how unlikely you are to burn, proper sun care is important. And adding antioxidant-filled foods to your sun protection arsenal is likely to help (and certainly won’t hurt).
UV exposure, free radicals, and antioxidants
At Nature’s Aid, we’re huge advocates for getting outside and enjoying nature. But as a natural skin care company, we also know the importance of balancing the need to soak up some sun with protecting the skin.
This is because prolonged and unprotected (aka not using a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 SPF) exposure to UV rays generates free radicals. And free radicals are a nightmare for the skin.
Free radicals cause deterioration of the collagen and elastin fibers within the skin, leading to common aging symptoms such as fine lines, wrinkles, and loose or saggy skin. Prolonged sun exposure leads to cumulative damage, which can have more serious health risks, including the development of skin cancer.
Now, what does this have to do with the foods you eat?
According to skincancer.org, « Studies have shown that substances called antioxidants, including vitamins and other nutrients, may help fight off free radicals and prevent the damage they do that can cause skin cancer. A 2002 study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that UV exposure greases the wheels for skin damage partly by depleting antioxidants in the body. So, it makes sense that replacing these protective substances could bolster the weakened defenses. »
I know, 2002 was a really long time ago. Luckily, more research has been done since and, « After years of debate about whether antioxidants could indeed spell the difference between someone developing or not developing skin cancer, recent research has tipped the scales in their favor. More dermatologists than ever now advise patients to feast on foods high in these nutrients. Many also suggest applying topical products containing them, including sunscreens, » adds skincancer.org.
Fill your fridge and pantry with these foods
Foods containing vitamins C, D and E, zinc, selenium, beta carotene (carotenoids), omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene and polyphenols are among those being recommended by dermatologists to help prevent skin cancer.
If you read that and are thinking… okay, I’ll take supplements… you totally can. But they’re not as good as the real deal. Since it’s the interaction between different nutrients in foods that make them most effective, actually eating foods with these nutrients is best.
Vitamin C: feast on fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, strawberries and raspberries and vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli and bell peppers.
Vitamin D: fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna are great sources, and common foods like milk and orange juice are often fortified with it. Small amounts can be found in egg yolks and cheese. Fortified soy products are often a good vegan alternative.
Vitamin E: snack on almonds and sunflower seeds, and be sure to eat your spinach, soybeans and wheat germ.
Selenium: Brazil nuts are an excellent source, just 1 to 2 a day provide all the selenium you need. You’ll also get this mineral from chicken and grass-fed beef.
Beta Carotene: fill up on orange-coloured fruits and vegetables like carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots and mangoes.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: vegetarian sources include walnuts and flaxseed. You’ll also get your Omega-3s from salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and tuna.
Lycopene: you can get this red-pigmented antioxidant from tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit, blood oranges and guava.
Polyphenols: can be found in freshly brewed green or black tea.
Apply topical products containing antioxidants
As noted above, applying products rich in antioxidants is also good for the skin. Which is why an after-sun care routine is a good idea. So whenever you come in from a day in the sun, rinse away the day’s dirt and grime (and sunscreen!). Then apply a product that offers skin-calming and regenerative properties.
*On a final note, consuming and applying antioxidant-rich ingredients will not replace sunscreen, hats and UV-filtering sunglasses. Instead, use it to complement these other initiatives.
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