Fight Skin Cancer with Diet

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to the UV rays in sunlight or tanning beds, according to the American Cancer Society. To help prevent skin cancer, you should use sunscreen when outdoors, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., stay in the shade as much as possible while outdoors during those hours, and wear wide brimmed hats and sun protective clothing. In recent years, scientists have been exploring the idea that your diet can also protect against skin cancer.

When your skin is exposed to UV rays, free radicals form. These are small oxygen molecules that cause inflammation, damaging the skin’s function and DNA, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. UV exposure may also deplete the skin’s antioxidants, which can help fight the free radicals and prevent damage to the skin. It’s possible that eating a diet high in antioxidants can help reduce the chances of developing skin cancer.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University’s School of Health Professionals believe that the diet common in the Mediterranean area may act as a protector from damaging sun rays. Their study, published in Nutrition Reviews in 2010, showed that this diet, rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, can help lower your risk of developing skin cancer. A previous, small study based in Italy and published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2008, showed the same results. The Mediterranean diet, as it is often referred to, is high in plant-based foods, vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, olive oil, fish, and fresh herbs— - all foods high in antioxidants. At the same time, the Mediterranean diet contains very little red meat, refined sugars, and flours or processed foods.

In the 2010 study, participants were divided into two groups. One group was given a drink high in antioxidants while the other group received other beverages, such as soda, every day during the study. After two weeks of five to six hours of sun exposure, researchers looked at blood samples from both groups. The group who had the antioxidant drink had 50 percent less oxidation products in their blood. Dr. Niva Shapira, lead author of the study, stated, “My theory was that if you prepared the body with sufficient and relevant antioxidants, damage could be reduced.”

Components of the Mediterranean diet

  • The main oil used in cooking and for flavor is olive oil.

  • Fruit and vegetables are eaten several times a day. Vegetables can be raw and cooked. (Potatoes don’t count as a vegetable)

  • Legumes are eaten on a daily basis. This includes beans, soy and peas.

  • Whole grains are used and eaten on a daily basis (whole grain breads do count)

  • Nuts are eaten several times per week.

  • Fish is eaten two or more times per week.

  • Alcohol, preferably red wine, in moderation (1 to 2 drinks per day) is acceptable.

  • Dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, preferably low-fat, can be eaten in moderate amounts on a daily basis.

  • Saturated fats, such as those from butter, meat and eggs (no more than 4 eggs per week) should be eaten only rarely.

  • Instead of cakes and desserts containing refined sugars, desserts normally consist of fresh fruit.

  • Refined sugars and sweets are reserved for special occasions

  • Red meat is eaten only rarely (one or two times per month)

  • Foods on this type of diet are usually fresh. Processed foods are rarely eaten.

The Mediterranean diet isn’t a diet in the normal sense of “going on a diet” but rather a lifestyle change in how you eat. By making some simple changes, such as using whole grains, cooking with olive oil, and eating more fruits and vegetables, you can help protect your skin from cancer. Remember that eating these foods doesn’t mean you should stop using sunscreen and taking precautions before going out in the sun. Eat the Mediterranean diet in addition to daily sun protection.

Additional health benefits

And following the Mediterranean diet isn’t just good for your skin. Research has shown that it can improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, reduce the risk of diabetes, stroke, and some types of cancers, as well as help you lose weight, according to Harvard Health.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.