Sunday, August 8, 2010

Younger Skin-and Lower Your Risk of Skin Cancer 5 Foods

*EatingWell**Protect your skin from the sun from the inside out by eating these foods that are healthy for your skin.

tomato, coffee, edamame, salmon, strawberry

by Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.

Keep your skin looking younger-and lower your risk of skin cancer with these foods.

My husband, Andy, lives in a perpetual summer, chasing warmer weather, making a living racing sailboats-so, understandably, he's a sunscreen fanatic. And for good reason: more than a million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year, which by the way is the most common type of cancer.

Andy's sunscreen habits mean he's protecting his skin from the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays from the outside in. But, as a registered dietitian, I know that he can also protect his skin from the inside out. In fact, a study published in March (2010) in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology supports just that-certain vitamins do help to protect our skin. So I dug through the scientific literature to come up with a list of foods that Andy and I could eat to help us protect our skin.

What I discovered is that many of the same foods that can boost his defenses against skin cancer will also help keep my skin looking younger and smoother and ward off wrinkles. And vice versa.


Eating more vitamin C-rich foods may help to ward off wrinkles and age-related dryness, suggests research from 2007 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vitamin C's skin-smoothing effects may be due to its ability to mop up free radicals produced from ultraviolet rays and also its role in collagen synthesis. Collagen is fibrous protein that keeps skin firm and vitamin C is essential for collagen production. Other research suggests that vitamin C may also protect skin cells by promoting the repair of DNA that's been damaged by UV rays. You can find vitamin C in a multitude of cosmetics (of which some have been shown to be effective in protecting skin), but why not go straight to the source for a tasty boost of vitamin C: strawberries, red bell peppers, papaya, broccoli and oranges are all excellent sources.


Andy and I are both coffee lovers, so it's good to know that drinking coffee may lower our risk of developing skin cancer. In one study of more than 93,000 women, published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, those who drank even a single daily cup of caffeinated coffee reduced their risk of developing nonmelanoma skin cancer by about 10 percent. And the more they drank-up to about 6 cups or so per day-the lower their risk. Decaf didn't seem to offer the same protection. These findings add to a body of research that suggests caffeine, in both coffee and tea, is the protective ingredient. In another study-where mice were exposed to harmful sunburn-causing ultraviolet B rays (see box, below)-caffeine inhibited the formation of skin tumors. Caffeine basically kills precancerous and ultraviolet-damaged skin cells by blocking a protein that they need to divide, explains Paul Nghiem, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of dermatology at the University of Washington Medical School. The effects of caffeine on skin are modest, so it's not a reason to start drinking coffee-it's just "one more reason to enjoy it if you already do," says Nghiem.


Consuming more lycopene-the carotenoid that makes tomatoes red, carrots orange and gives pink grapefruit and watermelon a pink-red hue-may keep your skin smooth and protect it from sunburn. In a study published in 2008 in the European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics, researchers found that of the 20 individuals studied, those who had higher skin concentrations of lycopene had smoother skin. And in another study, participants who were exposed to UV light had almost 50 percent less skin reddening after they ate 2 1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste or drank about 1 2/3 cups of carrot juice daily, in addition to their regular diet, for 10 to 12 weeks. Supplements, however, weren't as effective: in the same study, those who received a lycopene supplement or synthetic lycopene weren't significantly protected against sunburn. And lycopene isn't the only carotenoid that shields your skin from UV damage; others, including lutein, found in corn, kale, spinach, summer squash and egg yolks, and beta carotene, found in pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach and carrots, appear to also have a protective effect.


Soyfoods, including edamame, tofu and soymilk, may help to preserve skin-firming collagen-which begins to decline starting in our twenties-because they're rich in isoflavones. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, mice fed isoflavones and exposed to UV radiation had fewer wrinkles and smoother skin than mice that were exposed to UV light but didn't get isoflavones. The researchers believe that isoflavones help prevent collagen breakdown. Like lycopene and vitamin C, isoflavones also act like antioxidants, scavenging for and mopping up free radicals caused by sun exposure.


The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids, respectively) found in fatty fish (tuna, sardines, trout and salmon) may shield cell walls from free-radical damage caused by UV rays, according to a 2009 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Omega-3s also help to prevent skin cancer by reducing inflammatory compounds that can promote tumor growth, says Homer S. Black, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the Department of Dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Those same fish may help keep your skin looking youthful, too, as EPA has been shown to preserve collagen. Aim to eat two servings of fatty fish each week: not only are the omega-3s good for your skin, they're good for your heart too.

Still, nothing beats sunscreen-and, admittedly, I'm a sucker for a great skin-saving lotion, cream or serum-but Andy and I will also be adding more of these foods to our diet.


Spending hours exposed to the rays that give you a bronzy tan will increase your risk of developing skin cancer and accelerate your skin's aging process. Here's how: ultraviolet (UV) rays break the chemical bonds of skin cells, killing them and damaging their DNA, which may eventually cause cancerous growth. Both forms of UV light can lead to cancer. UVB is the type that helps your body synthesize vitamin D-but too much of it causes sunburn, and although it's the form of UV that we're most familiar with, it only makes up a small fraction of what we're exposed to. The vast majority of UV light we receive is actually UVA light. UVA penetrates deeper into the skin than UVB, creating damage before there's any visible sunburn. It's also a major contributor to premature skin aging.

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