What if I told you that you could protect your skin from sun damage by altering what you eat? I’m going to guess your reaction would be fairly similar to mine: excited. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for a nice, cruelty-free and non-greasy sunscreen. But if I can boost my skin’s self-protective mechanisms with some of the foods that I consume, then why the hell not?
According to 2014 data from Cancer Research UK, 86% of melanomas were preventable. That makes you think, doesn’t it? All the stress and pain that comes with skin cancer which could have been avoided with better self-care.
When our skin is exposed to the sun, melanogenesis occurs. This is the process whereby skin pigment melanin is produced in melanosomes by melanocytes. This is what gives us our tan. Ultraviolet rays can cause cellular damage, so our skin has to have some sort of protective mechanism to prevent frazzling. That’s where the melanin steps up. It’s pretty remarkable really. It’s also the pigment behind our eye and hair colour.
But even with melanogenesis, cell damage can still occur in the form of DNA lesions. Our bodies have protective mechanisms that allow for these and can correct them to a certain extent, but once equilibrium has been surpassed, that’s when danger strikes.
Let’s talk about lycopene. This red pigment found in tomatoes, watermelon, papaya and red carrots was shown to have tremendous sun-protecting benefits. A study was carried out on a group of women who were used to burning very easily in the sun. They were asked to eat tomato paste (known to contain high levels of lycopene) every day for 12 weeks prior to being exposed again and what was found was a 30% reduction in burning! It’s no substitute for sunscreen of course, but a definite help in protecting the most sensitive of skins.
Ketchup is an easy source of lycopene, but at only 2.5mg per tablespoon, it’s not enough. Consider tomato paste instead, at a whopping 75.4mg per cup or a wedge of watermelon which will provide about 13mg.
Next up we’ve got vitamin B3, otherwise known as nicotinamide. This has been shown to prevent skin cancer in those who are considered ‘high risk’ patients. It is found in trace amounts in many multivitamins, otherwise can be obtained from green vegetables, nuts and mushrooms.
This is really key in patients who have already been diagnosed with milder skin cancers. Supplementing with B3 was shown to have a 23% decrease in the likelihood of these patients developing another cancer.
Finally, let’s discuss Vitamin D. Because while the sun can hurt us, it also really benefits us if we’re exposed in the right amount. Vitamin D is metabolised when UVB rays come into contact with the skin. It is a steroid hormone that prevents a whole host of chronic illnesses as well as fighting short-term infections like cold and flu. It helps regulate calcium and phosphate in the body and a deficiency can cause bone deformities. The key to generating vitamin D is to expose as much surface area of your skin as possible to sunlight, as close to solar noon as possible for as long as possible without getting burned. A pretty staggering finding is shown below:
Having optimum vitamin D levels (70 ng/ml) could prevent 16 different types of cancer including breast, ovarian and prostate.
But what happens when you simply can’t get out in the sun? Perhaps it’s the dead of winter, or maybe you have a demanding job that’s indoors and you work long hours. This is where supplements can come in. You can either buy supplements in the form of pills, or you can enjoy the intake through delicious foods. Do some research and you’ll see that things like oily fish, red meat and eggs all crop up. None of these are vegan-friendly, however. So let’s instead talk veggie options.
- Mushrooms – They naturally contain vitamin D, however a cool trick is to leave them in the sunlight to boost levels. Then, eat up! Seems mushrooms really are the one when it comes to powerful prevention. Hello portobello burgers at BBQs this summer…
- Plant-based milks – Consider fortified milks as an ideal and easy source of vitamin D. Whether it’s almond, soy, or oat that you’re chugging, check the ingredients list and see what’s included as a helpful addition.
- Tofu – Check your tofu ingredients because it’s likely that this too has been fortified. Job done.
If you needed another reason to consider eating more healthily and sun exposure is a risk where you live, consider these protective foods to help yourself out a little. The same goes for including more vitamin D in your diet if your problem is not getting enough sun. For something that can be so easily prevented, skin cancer is incredibly common. Keep your sunscreen handy, but enjoy the deliciousness too.
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