Chuck, our family so appreciates the well-documented health information in your “C-Force” column, especially the one lately on sunburns, sunscreens and skin cancers. I heard tomatoes in particular help prevent sunburns. Myth or fact? – Tom R. in Alaska
Seeing as the skin is the largest organ in the human body and July is UV Safety Month, as well as the peak of summer fun in the sun, this three-part series on skin health and cancer is more than warranted.
In Part 1, I discussed some surprising causes of skin cancer. In Part 2, I showed how suntan lotion can be a help and a hindrance to skin health and how to find the right protectants with the best ingredients to slow down wrinkling.
This week, I will talk about how what you eat, including those foods you can easily pack and eat on your summer excursions, affects your skin.
The American Cancer Society’s website explains: “The body uses certain compounds in foods and chemicals made in the body, called antioxidants, to help protect against damage to tissues that happens constantly as a result of normal metabolism (oxidation). Because such damage is linked with increased cancer risk, some antioxidants may help protect against cancer. Antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids (such as beta-carotene and vitamin A), and many other phytochemicals (chemicals from plants). Studies suggest that people who eat more vegetables and fruits, which are rich sources of antioxidants, may have a lower risk for some types of cancer.”
Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center and Columbia University’s dermatology department elaborated that certain foods and herbs rich in antioxidants are helpful to fight skin cancers. Fruits and veggies rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, flavonoids – such as apigenin and quercetin – and polyphenols, such as reseveratrol, are particularly good anti-cancer agents. They include carrots, broccoli, beans, chards, pumpkins, cabbage, tomatoes, celery, onions, apples, peanuts, cherries, strawberries, apricots, blueberries, pears, raspberries and grapes. Red wine and tea, especially green and black tea, are also among this class of cancer-fighting warriors.
Jennalee Dahlen, aesthetician at Santa Cruz Skin Solutions, told SantaCruz.com, “A tomato, for example, has lycopene in it, which helps decrease the sunburn response, and avocado has carotenoids in it, which helps absorb the photo-damaging light.”
Other foods rich in carotenoids include carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, kale, bell peppers, papayas and collard greens.
The International Carotenoid Society defines carotenoids this way: They “are a widely distributed group of naturally occurring pigments, usually red, orange or yellow in color. … They are known to be essential for plant growth and photosynthesis, and are a main dietary source of vitamin A in humans. They are thought to be associated with reduced risk of several chronic health disorders including some forms of cancer, heart disease and eye degeneration.”
Among the dozens of carotenoids, lycopene is the one found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables, such as red bell peppers, red carrots and watermelons.
The ACS notes: “Tomatoes are the most concentrated food source of lycopene, although apricots, guava, watermelon, papaya and pink grapefruit are also significant sources. … Evidence is strongest for lycopene’s protective effect against cancer of the lung, stomach and prostate. It may also help to protect against cancer of the cervix, breast, mouth, pancreas, esophagus, and colon and rectum.”
Some herbs and supplements have potent antioxidants, too, but should not be mixed with various prescriptions, so make sure you consult with your physician before adding them to your diet. According to the University of Maryland, among those believed to help prevent cancer in general are bilberry, ginkgo, milk thistle, ginger, hawthorn and green tea.
We don’t have to stop enjoying the outdoors or stay inside for all of our summer exercise or activity, but we do have to be sun-smart. According to the ACS, practicing sun safety is the best way to prevent skin cancers, and now you know that includes eating right, too. Sun safety practices should be done even on cloudy or overcast days because ultraviolet rays travel through clouds.
Sun safety practices are summarized by the ACS in its “Slip! Slop! Slap! and Wrap” rules:
Slip on a shirt. When you’re outdoors, use protective clothing to guard as much skin as possible (without, of course, using too much clothing, which increases the risk of heatstroke).
Slop on sunscreen. Apply a liberal amount of sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) and lip balm at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. Reapply them every two hours or after swimming, excessive sweating or drying yourself with a towel.
Slap on a hat. Put on a wide-brimmed hat, covering as much of your face, ears and neck as possible. Apply sunscreen to any of those areas that are exposed to the sun.
Wrap on sunglasses. Wear sunglasses with 100 percent UVA and UVB absorption protection.