Four Foods Which May Protect Against Skin Cancer

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

Food, glorious food

We all like to eat" right? So why not eat foods which provide us with protection from things like cancer? In researching this article I scoured the literature for foods which had research to back up claims that they could reduce the risk of skin cancer. I looked to reputable sources such as The American Cancer Society as well as well publicized research studies. Yet despite the studies and research of the foods I will discuss, it is important to know that there is no diet or supplement which can prevent skin cancer as much as using protection against harmful UV rays. You can eat cancer fighting foods all you want but if you visit tanning beds regularly or go out into the mid-day sun without sun block you may get skin cancer.

For more tips and suggestions about skin cancer prevention please visit our Skin Cancer Prevention Guide.

Here are four foods which reportedly decrease one's risk for skin cancer:

1.** Hot black tea with lemon peel**

Lemons are a great source of Vitamin C which is a powerful antioxidant. Lemons also have a compound called limonene which has documented anticancer properties. When the peel of lemons is combined with hot black tea, protection against skin cancer dramatically increases.

In 2001 the BBC News cited a study from the University of Arizona in which researchers concluded that: "Citrus peel in the tea was found to have more than a 70% reduced risk for skin squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), whereas black tea alone meant a 40% reduction."

It also seemed to matter that the tea was hot and not cold. The researchers found that iced drinks were less effective than the hot beverages as they were more likely to be diluted.

Some sources say that one tablespoon a week of the grated lemon peel into your hot black tea is all you need to make a significant difference.

2. Spinach

Popeye had it right all along. Spinach is a power food which can make you feel strong and energized due to its high iron content. But did you also know that Spinach can increase your body's ability to protect itself from sun damage?

Spinach is a natural anti- inflammatory and the Vitamin B in spinach helps to also maintain the firmness of your skin. Spinach contains 13 flavonoids with anticancer properties which protect you from several types of cancer including skin cancer. And it seems that there is research to back up this claim.

In 2006 it was reported by the Queensland Institute of Medical Research that "Green leafy vegetables are good sources of folic acid, vitamins A, C and E, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, and other components which may help boost the skin's natural defense against damage caused by UV rays,"

The researchers took a look at over a thousand people randomly selected who were living in a sunny sub-tropical region. They followed up with individuals for a decade and discovered that a high intake of green leafy vegetables including spinach cut the risk of reoccurring skin cancer by 55% in those individuals with a history of skin cancer. So if you have had skin cancer in the past you might want to whip up some spinach salads.

Other dark green leafy vegetables which may benefit those with a history of skin cancer include: Kale, romaine lettuce, beet greens, and swiss chard.

3. Broccoli

Whenever I think of broccoli I think of the Saturday Night Live skit, "Chopping Broccoli" which you can sing along to as you are preparing your broccoli for consumption. But I digress. Here is the scoop on broccoli. Broccoli is said to contain anti-cancer compounds which fight inflammation and support the immune system. But did you know that extracts from broccoli, when applied to the skin, may reduce the redness and inflammation of sun damage?
This decrease in inflammation can subsequently decrease the risk of skin cancer.

So in addition to eating your broccoli are you are also supposed to wear it? This is what some researchers are saying.

According to a 2007 ABC News report Johns Hopkins scientists found that UV-induced redness and inflammation were reduced by 37% with the use of a topical solution of broccoli extract. But these same researchers provide much caution in their 2007 report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. One cannot assume that if you smear yourself with some broccoli concoction and go out into the sun that you will be protected. They state for the record that this extract does not take the place of sun block.

4. Tumeric

Tumeric is a spice grown in India and parts of Asia and is sometimes called Indian Saffron. This spice is used in foods like curry, chutney or Tai dishes. The American Cancer Society reports that in addition to spicing up our dishes, Tumeric may also have anti-cancer properties.

Specifically, animal and laboratory studies have demonstrated that the active ingredient in turmeric, called curcumin may be a powerful cancer fighting antioxidant. The American Cancer Society states that some researchers believe that turmeric can slow the growth of multiple types of cancer including skin cancer.

Ever since the Wall Street Journal came out with a story in 2005 entitled, "Common Indian Spice Stirs Hope" research about curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, had exploded. Whether all the hype is justified has yet to be proven. Yet it may be worth researching this spice for yourself. And it may be a new and exciting spice to add to your spice rack.

In case you have never cooked with turmeric, here is a recipe site listing many dishes using turmeric as the primary spice.

If you check the literature there are many foods listed as possible anti-cancer agents against skin cancer. But remember to do your research to weed out the hype from well established studies. And even then common sense is the rule. The very best prevention for skin cancer is to stay out of the sun and to use sun block when you are exposed to sunlight. But it might not hurt to take a look at your diet and make healthy choices. There is nothing to lose from that.

Here are some other resources to look at in your quest for information about cancer fighting foods:

Hughes, et al. (October 2006). Food intake and risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. International Journal of Cancer, 119:1953-60.

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."