Approximately 9,500 people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. To put this statistic into perspective, consider that 1 in 5 Americans are expected to develop this disease in their lifetime. Because skin cancer is so prevalent, many medical experts have researched alternative ways to reduce its risk—the most recent of which is diet. In today’s post, Detroit-area cosmetic surgeon and skin cancer removal expert, Dr. George T. Goffas, answers the question, “Can eating an anti-inflammatory diet help reduce the risk of skin cancer?”
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet consists of foods that are rich in antioxidants—vitamins and nutrients which may help fight off free radicals thought to cause a number of cancers, including skin cancer. Some of these antioxidants include vitamins C, E, and A, as well as zinc, selenium, beta carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, and polyphenols.
What foods have the highest amounts of antioxidants?
- Fruits & veggies: According to the study, “Cellular Antioxidant Activity of Common Fruits,” wild blueberries, pomegranates, blackberries, strawberries, and blackberries have the highest concentration of antioxidants of all fruits, in that order. Similarly, beets, broccoli, and red peppers have the highest antioxidant levels of all vegetables.
- Protein: Fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Just make sure you’re choosing wild-caught fish, as these are thought to have fewer toxins stored in their fatty tissue.
- Nuts & seeds: Walnuts and flaxseeds are also full of omega-3s; specifically, they contain alpha-linolenic acids (ALAs), a type of omega-3 found primarily in plant foods.
How can eating an anti-inflammatory diet help prevent skin cancer?
Antioxidants reduce inflammation and boost our immune system, which makes us more resilient to illness and contributes to our overall health & well-being. They can also increase the functionality of our bloodstream, helping deliver essential nutrients to our skin for protection. Here are some other ways eating an anti-inflammatory diet has shown to help prevent skin cancer:
- A review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that phytochemicals, specifically beta carotene and other carotenoids, provide protection against harmful UV rays. The study concludes, “an optimal supply of antioxidant micronutrients in the skin increases basal dermal defense against UV irradiation, supports longer-term protection, and contributes to maintenance of skin health and appearance.”
Phytochemicals, particularly beta carotene and other carotenoids, provide protection against harmful UV rays.
- A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that the polyphenols found in green tea have been found to repair DNA in sun-damaged skin by absorbing UV radiation and neutralizing free radicals. By increasing the delivery of blood flow and oxygen to the skin, polyphenols can also improve overall skin quality.
- A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that women with a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer who took small doses of vitamin D combined with calcium reduced their overall melanoma risk.
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
In addition to eating an anti-inflammatory diet, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption can also help prevent skin cancer. How? Alcohol breaks down into what are called advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs, which produce free radicals that consume skin-protecting antioxidants. As we get older, these AGEs inhibit our skin’s ability to produce collagen and elastin, making it less resilient to UV radiation (not to mention making it appear looser and more wrinkled).
Can supplements help prevent skin cancer?
Because nutrients are strengthened by their interaction with other nutrients contained in unprocessed foods (vs. supplements), most medical professionals and nutritionists recommend consuming whole foods over supplements to reap the most nutritional benefits. Furthermore, nutrients found in whole foods are absorbed gradually, allowing the body to use them over a longer period of time. Finally, since the FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements, it can be very difficult to verify the quality, absorption, and efficacy of supplements.
Most medical professionals recommend getting nutrients from whole foods versus dietary supplements.
Note that if you have certain dietary restrictions that prevent you from getting adequate vitamins and minerals, a dietary supplement may be necessary; just be sure to talk with your primary care physician before starting or stopping any supplements.
What are the different types of skin cancer?
While melanoma gets the most attention of all the skin cancers due to its deadliness, nonmelanoma skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are the most prevalent types of skin cancer. All three types of skin cancer can be treated if they are detected early.
Additional tips for reducing your risk of skin cancer
While antioxidant-rich foods can help protect us from skin cancer, daily photoprotection is also critical, including wearing sunscreen and UV-blocking clothing. Here are a few tips for reducing your risk of skin cancer in addition to a healthy diet:
- Limit your time in the sun. Since most skin cancer is caused by exposure to UV radiation via the sun, avoiding direct sun exposure is your first defense against skin cancer.
- Avoid tanning beds. Like the sun, tanning beds also expose the skin to high levels of UV radiation. In fact, just a single indoor tanning session can increase the risk of developing melanoma by 20% (squamous cell carcinoma by 67% and basal cell carcinoma by 29%), according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and protective clothing. If you are spending time in direct sunlight, protecting your skin with a hat and long layers is your best bet for avoiding skin damage.
- Wear a high-SPF broad-spectrum sunscreen and reapply it at least every two hours. A broad-spectrum sunscreen will protect against harmful UVA and UVB rays.
- Schedule regular skin check-ups with an MD. The truth is, most skin cancers are highly treatable when detected early (the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99% when caught in its earliest stages). Schedule annual skin exams with a medical professional who specializes in skin care, such as a board certified cosmetic surgeon, to prevent skin cancers from becoming harmful.
Schedule your skincare exam at Cosmetic Surgeons of Michigan
Board certified cosmetic surgeon Dr. George T. Goffas has helped patients in metro Detroit and St. Clair Shores prevent and treat skin cancer for over 15 years. Dr. Goffas specializes in wide local excision (WLE), a minor surgical procedure in which cancerous skin tissue, along with some of the surrounding normal tissue, are carefully removed. Schedule your annual skincare exam with Dr. Goffas online or by calling (586) 773-6900.