Preventing Skin Cancer from the Inside Out

Preventing Skin Cancer from the Inside Out
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Eating antioxidant-rich foods can bolster skin protection and reduce sunburn redness by 40%, whereas alcohol can dramatically drop the level of antioxidants in the skin within 8 minutes of consumption.

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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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to craig via Flickr.

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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to craig via Flickr.

Doctor's Note

Isn’t that wild? Antioxidant dynamics in the body change minute to minute; so, make sure to top yourself up:

What else can tomatoes do? Check out Inhibiting Platelet Activation with Tomato Seeds.

Other videos on skin health include:

Alcohol doesn’t just raise the risk of skin cancer. See Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much is Safe? But like the OJ in the screwdriver, grape skin components may help mediate the adverse effects. See: Breast Cancer Risk: Red Wine vs. White Wine.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

51 responses to “Preventing Skin Cancer from the Inside Out

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  1. I’m about to take my plane. Organic Apple, dried Apple Peel and How Not To Die in my bag ! Thank you Michael. Seychelles I’m comming !!!!

  2. Dr. Liu’s cellular antioxidant activity assay measures how compounds and food extracts inhibit reactions initiated by oxidant AAPH in a liver cancer cell line. However this may not be so relevant for UV damage to the skin, where the initial and main culprit isn’t a nucleophile, but UV generated singlet oxygen. Physical quenchers of singlet oxygen, like β-carotene, and lycopene from tomatoes (both readily bioavailable to skin), are vastly more potent against singlet oxygen than the chemical quenchers that do well on the cellular antioxidant activity assay. Lycopene, for example, quenches singlet oxygen ~1900 times better than quercetin, the top scorer in the CAA.

      1. Q Oh, Kale is there anything you cannot do?
        A Just one thing. I cannot ditch Trump. Your are going to go to the polling booth & ditch him yourself.

          1. It’s a start, although, he’s not ditched yet.
            Not to mention that it is amusing to see wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth as pundits discuss the consternation that he is causing within his party…

    1. What if the sun damage has already been done? The dermatologist is pushing me to use a topical chemo cream to remove actinic keratoses, which may or may not become malignancies. Do I need to do this, or should I just continue the plant-based diet I’ve been eating for 9+ years? I do not smoke or drink. I cannot find an answer to this anywhere!

      1. Thanks Deborah for this question, for I’ve got the same diagnosis and also like to know answers on this.
        Well it’s about 2 years ago you put your question (without any reply). But maybe you found answers elsewhere and are hopefully healed by now.
        I’m also on a plant-based diet, don’t smoke or drink either and don’t like the chemical option.
        I appreciate if you let me know your experiences on this.
        Thanks for any reply.
        Greetings,

        Ruud (from the Netherlands)

      2. Thanks Deborah for this question, for I’ve got the same diagnosis and also like to know answers on this.
        Well it’s about 2 years ago you put your question (without any reply). But maybe you found answers elsewhere and are hopefully healed by now.
        I’m also on a plant-based diet, don’t smoke or drink either and don’t like the chemical option.
        I appreciate if you let me know your experiences on this.
        Thanks for any reply.
        Greetings,

        Ruud (from the Netherlands)

  3. This seems to present more the case that alcohol is deleterious to antioxidant levels than its tie-in to the issue of skin vulnerability.

  4. Alcohol increases iron uptake dramatically, which is good for people who don’t get enough. Iron may be the cause of major ROS damage in the skin from UV damage. Phlebotomy in one study reduce heart attack rate by 88% and in another cancer death by 61%. So iron may be a battery for ROS, RNS and free radicals througout the body. Post menopausal women start getting chronic illness as much as men as a result of increased iron retention. The connection with UV damage and iron is quite high according to various studies. So much of this might be mediated by iron. Our standard diet seems to cause much more uptake of iron. The unusual thing is that there’s a lot of iron deficient obese people.

  5. thank you for providing this info. I’m a vampire due to 3 generations of melanoma. I rarely go out in the sun for extended time. I see a dermatologist 2x a year.

    1. Might be helpful to optimize intake of pro- and pre-biotics: some
      patients with melanoma, lung and head and neck cancers respond strongly
      to a new class of immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, but
      other patients don’t respond at all. Why? Apparently, microbes in the Bifidobacterium family, B. fragilis and B. thetaiotamicron,
      stimulated the immune anti-cancer response, at least in mice.

      M Vétizou et al. 2015. Anticancer immunotherapy by CTLA-4 blockade relies on the gut microbiota. Vol 350, Issue 6264. 27 November 2015. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/350/6264/1079

    1. Our bodies are very dynamic in how handles various toxic and non-toxic substances. Tolerance is the usual word to describe such. A “seasoned drinker” might need two shots to get out of bed on a bad day. Someone with zero prior experience may indeed fall down after 3 full shots. Then there are a lot of folks in the between. There are no absolutes except for laws that apply absolutes such as “legally defined impairment”. We all vary somewhat and some substantially.

      I’m going to eat more berries at the beach and do more night fishing…because we ARE having a drink or seven while we’re there. Plus sunscreen and wide hats and sleeves…

      1. My low tolerance for alcohol likely results from a genetic SNP – homozygous for MTHFR, which slows methylation, which slows detoxification through the liver. The thing is, many people , possibly even the majority of them, have this same thing and don’t know it.

        1. Super. That’s not my case. Nope. Sure ain’t. And I know a lot of others with the “high-tolerance” condition. Enough that I doubt that slow detox is an issue with a majority. But then I’m no scientist or doctor.

          It’s so much easier to let them do the work (research and presentation) and sit back and armchair analyze their results. 8^p

  6. I hate to admit it, but I have a yearly trip with some friends (13 or so) all the way back to Elementary school and/or middle/high school. Binge drinking for a day or two does unfortunately happen most of the time, and I am glad to hear this in case it is a beach or lake trip we take. The rest of the year I keep it to no drinks to a drink a night max.

  7. I know this to be true from my own experience. I noticed when I started juicing vegetables (12 oz juice with 1 apple, few carrots, and a sundry other veges), I went from sunburning within about 30 minutes to sunburning in a few hours. I never use/need sunscreen now, unless I’ll be out for many hours in intense sun. Much better than applying chemical protection in my book.

  8. A theory I once heard during a seminar by Dr Robert Young (he of alkaline lifestyle/diet fame), and related to Friday’s video “Protein Source: An Acid Test for Kidney Function”, is that the more acidic a person is (not their blood of course, which almost never changes, but their extracellular fluid) due to an acidic lifestyle (mostly dietary based on consuming animal products) the more acidic their perspiration is, and so the quicker they burn in the presence of UV radiation (UVB being the main sunburn culprit).

    I don’t think there is any research on this, but given that urine pH is more acidic the more the individual consumes acidic foods and drinks (esp alcohol that has a very acidifying effect once metabolised by the body and esp at the time of drinking) one could certainly see how one’s perspiration would also be more acidic, as the body rids itself (via urination, perspiration, defecation and expiration) of the acidifying substances (rather than let them enter the blood stream and cause potentially catastrophic events should the blood pH decrease or indeed increase from ~7.2).

    It’s clear from this video and research that antioxidant levels play an important role and maybe just maybe the pH of the perspiration does to. I mean, sitting outside in the summer sun and drinking alcoholic beverages is clearly not a good idea for ones skin… despite it being an often enjoyable experience if done responsibly.

    Of course, you could always knock back a tsp of amla berry powder before/during drinking ;-)

    1. Unfortunately, Dr Young isn’t the most credible or reliable of sources for information on nutrition and health. According to Wikipedia
      “He was arrested in January 2014 and is on trial, pleading not guilty to charges of theft and practising medicine without a license.[9][10]”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_O._Young
      https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/ph-miracle-living-dr-robert-o-young-finally-arrested-but-will-it-stop-him/
      http://www.quackwatch.com/11Ind/young3.html

      1. Dr Young promotes a Whole Foods Plant Based diet, just like Dr Greger. Sure, he focuses on the alkaline side of things, but since Dr G posted about alkaline info last Friday I thought it was an interesting piece of information to share.

        Dr Young also seems to have good results with reversing some nasty diseases and illnesses, which again isn’t far from what the well known WFPB doctors suggest to do.

        I’m not a Dr Young fanboy, merely passing on some info I heard that I actually feel makes sense.

  9. what a novel idea !
    The specific information about Berries being the best was also very helpful.
    I am assuming that my Celtic mother who has very pale skin would still need to be very careful even-though she cannot drink either(it runs in her side of the family including myself). She would still get blistered under harsh sun within 30 mins without covering up wouldn’t she?
    All the information I’ve read about UV ray & sunburn seem to suggest that the lighter one’s skin color the more at risk one is.
    How does this fit in with the consumption of antioxidant rich plant based food?
    I’m not too worried for myself though , as I have olive skin.

    1. This has been discussed here before. IIRC resveratrol has been “oversold” just like any other “good thing” that relates to a “bad habit”. As Pam Popper often says, “People LOVE to hear good things about their bad habits.”

      Here are five videos that discus resveratrol at some level: http://nutritionfacts.org/?s=resveratrol

  10. Again a great vid! I have noticed this too since going vegan.
    I was wondering if there is any data on lipoma. Hope this is the right place for this question.

    My brother (who is not vegan) is suffering from this and I really want to help him. You would think this condition is similar to other tumors or to other types of cancer, is this true? And are there any video’s on this topic (I cannot find any when using the search function)?

  11. Is there any study regarding high vitamin C doses or other supplements which claim antioxidant effect? In my last 4 week beach holiday I did a small experiment. I took each day 6g of vitamin C and 600mg of Megahydrate. First days I got a little red but the redness always disappeared until next day and in the second half of the holiday, the skin tolerated hours during peak sun activity without any redness or “skinning” of layers. Previous holidays I always had light to more severe sunburns.

    1. When I stopped eating sugar in all its many forms, I noticed that my skin showed less redness, and felt less painful, after sun exposure. No doubt a low-sugar diet means less inflammation in general.

  12. Ok so here’s the question of the day. If three shots of vodka dramatically reduces the antioxidant levels in me within 8 minutes, how long does it take to rejuvenate the antioxidant levels? If I drink the vodka in the evening then don’t go in the sun until the next day and be sure to eat a bowl full of berries for breakfast am I reasonably protected?
    My alcohol consumption has gone from daily down to once or twice a week since I started using the daily dozen app, but it’s still fun to have two or three on a Saturday night ;)

    Herbal tea has mostly replaced my Cabernet and IPA thanks to you Dr. G

  13. I’ve searched and have been unable to find a good antioxidant tracker. I enjoy tracking my food intake, and tracking servings of fruits and veggies isn’t hard, but I think it would be so interesting to see how many antioxidants, in a close approximation, I’m consuming. Does anyone know of a tracking program/site that does this? Thanks!

    1. hngustafson: While I haven’t used it myself, many people on this site have used the free “chronometer” to track nutrients. I don’t know how detailed it gets into antioxidants, but you could check it out.

    2. Consider purchasing the book “Eating on the Wild Side” by Jo Robinson. She is a science-food-researcher. Here is her site:
      http://www.eatwild.com/jo.html
      Her book explain that lycopene, in tomato products, increases the longer you cook it. So the most concentrated form of tomato is paste. Her book is loaded with the best plant foods from which to choose for the greatest support of your health. Try from the library first but I wouldn’t be surprised if you decided to purchase.
      Best –

    1. I suggest you go to the web site Earth Clinic where there are remedies listed; personally I found mixing clove bud essential oil with a carrier oil, applied to area over a period of time will reduce and eliminate the rosacea.

  14. Vitiligo, the white spots on skin, apparently, is from melonin dying, but the MD does not know why. It seems like this has got to be something to do with diet. When I google stuff, I come up with all these confusing home remedies, or to use steroids. Any ideas?I’ve now gone completely vegan, and whenever I need encouragement, I just pull out another video. thanks so much!!

  15. Dr. Greger, We’ve seen examples of say eating Turmeric for colon cancer or the topical application of it for skin cancer. In relation to this video, what about the topical application of antioxidants (e.g. some mashed up fruits, berries, …) to prevent sunburn? Is there any good research data on this?

    1. There is some evidence that vitamin C(ascorbic acid) applied to the skin helps prevent skin cancer but more research needs to be done, as this video shows it’s best to eat the vitamin C and other phytonutrients found in food.

  16. I developed a tomato allergy after consuming 2 Tablespoons of organic tomato paste from a jar, per day, after learning about this study a few years ago while living in Hawaii. I was exposed to the sun such a high percentage of the day, I thought the extra internal boost to my sunscreen couldn’t hurt. But now if I eat a serving of tomato, cooked or raw, a couple of days in a row, or multiple servings in a day, I get an itchy rash on my face and neck. My moderation lesson.

  17. What are the best plant / berry remedies against actinic keratosis? Is there an effective vegetable healing method for actinic keratosis? I hope someone has helping answers. Thanks.

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