Transcript: Preventing Skin Cancer From the Inside Out
More than a million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year, affecting about one in three Americans within their lifetimes. The chief risk factor is UV exposure from the sun, but alcohol consumption may also play a role. Most of the cancers associated with alcohol use are in the digestive tract, though, from mouth cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer down to liver and colon cancer, tissues alcohol comes in more direct contact with. Why skin cancer?
Well, a study of 300,000 Americans found that excessive drinking was associated with higher rates of sunburn. It may be that heavy and binge drinking are markers for an underlying willingness to disregard health risks and pass out on the beach, but maybe it’s because breakdown products of alcohol in the body generate such massive numbers of free radicals that they eat up the antioxidants that protect our skin from the sun. Plants produce their own built-in protection against the oxidative damage of the sun, and we can expropriate these built-in protectors by eating them to function as cell protectors within our own body. One might say fruit and vegetables provide the best polypharmacy, the best drug store against the development of cancer.
The ingestion of plant foods increases the antioxidant potential of our bloodstream, which can then be deposited in our tissues and protect us against the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, but only recently was it put to the test.
If you take 20 women, and burn their butts with a UV lamp before and after half of them eat three tablespoons of tomato paste a day for three months, there is significantly less DNA damage in the derrieres of those that eat the tomatoes. So, three months before bikini season, or even just ten weeks, if we eat lots of an antioxidant-rich food, like tomato sauce, we may reduce the redness of a sunburn 40%. It’s like you have built-in sunscreen within your skin. Now, this isn’t as good as a high SPF sunblock, but much of the UV exposure over a lifetime occurs when the skin is not protected; thus, the use of dietary factors with sun-protecting properties might have a substantial beneficial effect.
But it works both ways. Alcohol consumption decreases the protection within our skin. If you have people drink about three shots of vodka, within eight minutes—not ten weeks, eight minutes, the level of carotenoid antioxidants in their skin drops dramatically. If, however, you drink the same amount of vodka in orange juice, there’s still a drop in skin antioxidants compared to the initial value, but drinking a screwdriver is not as bad as drinking vodka straight. Is the difference enough to make a difference out in the sun, though?
After the drinks, they exposed the volunteers to a UV lamp and waited to see how long it would take them to burn, and the time span until they started turning red was significantly shorter after alcohol consumption, than in the experiments where either no alcohol was consumed or alcohol was consumed in combination with orange juice. That's like an extra half hour out in the sun based solely on what you put in your mouth before heading to the beach.
And, oranges are pretty wimpy. Not as bad as bananas, but berries are the best.
The researchers conclude that people should be aware of the fact that the consumption of alcohol in combination with sun exposure or a tanning booth increases their risk of sunburn and, therefore, their risk of developing premature skin aging and even skin cancer. If the consumption of alcohol cannot be avoided, like if someone’s holding you down or something, then you should make sure you have sunblock or, at least, do a strawberry daiquiri or something in order to reduce oxidative damage.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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