: Fruits and vegetables can prevent sunburn and skin cancer?
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The antioxidants in fruits and vegetables provide a barrier to the skin which can prevent sunburn and skin cancer.
WHAT WE KNOW
Slathering on the sunscreen, covering up, and eating a handful of cranberries before you go out in the sun? Are fruits and vegetables the next form of sunscreen? We know that sunburn is caused by excessive exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet light sources. Sunburn occurs because the body is unable to make enough melanin (protective pigment in the skin) to protect the skin. Repeated sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer in the damaged area. In fact, each blistering sunburn obtained during adolescence doubles the risk of developing malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, later in adulthood!
The current recommendations for sun protection include …
- Wear a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF that protects against both UVA and UVB rays
- Wear protective clothing—including sunglasses and a hat
- Avoid the sun during its strongest hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
While all of these measures are critical to protecting your skin from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, new research is looking at the role of antioxidants (in fruits and vegetables) in protecting and preventing sun damage.
HOW DO WE KNOW THIS?
A review published in Clinics in Dermatology found that in several studies weekly consumption of fish, shellfish, daily tea drinking, and high consumption of fruits and vegetables were associated with melanoma prevention. The study concluded, however, that there are very few human clinical trials that exist in this area of research and future studies need to be done.¹
Another study reported in Nutrition Reviews found that the foods associated with a traditional Mediterranean diet—olive oil, fish, yogurt, colorful fruits and vegetables—may have contributed to the low rates of melanoma in the Mediterranean region despite high levels of solar radiation. This study attributed the prevention to antioxidants, specifically phytochemicals, as the main line of defense against sunburn. The review suggested that diets rich in phytochemicals (fruits and vegetables) could complement external (sunscreen, clothing, etc.) strategies for lifelong sun protection.²
With the summer months quickly approaching, many families will start enjoying more time outside being physically active. Outdoor physical activity is very important, so what should you do? Just remember that covering up, slathering on the sunscreen, and avoiding the sun during peak hours are important steps to take toward preventing a burn!
While currently, there is no substantial evidence that proves fruits and vegetables can be used to protect your skin from UV radiation, we do know that all fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants that protect you and your family from many diseases (including cancer!) and disorders. So eating MORE fruits and vegetables is what really matters! Remember to eat a variety of colors to give you and your family the best recipe of beneficial compounds to stay healthy and disease free.
¹ Jensen, J., G. Wing, R. Dellavalle. “Nutrition and Melanoma Prevention” Clinics in Dermatology
(2010); 28: 644-49.
² Shapira, N. “Nutritional Approach to Sun Protection: A Suggested Complement to External Strategies.” Nutrition Reviews (2010); 68 (2): 75-86.