Nutrition - Skin Cancer

Tuesday 08 May 2018

This blog continues my series looking at specific cancers and nutrition. This month I want to look at skin cancer and melanoma.

In preparation for this series, I wrote a blog on all the different types of research that are available, explaining what each type meant. This is important for people who do their own research online. I followed this with a blog on the ideal diet, gathering  information on the latest findings and summarising them in a chart. 

As always there is a huge amount of information available. I have selected the common themes and summarised the information for you. Most of the good research focuses on eating a Mediterranean type of diet. The evidence for this is strong.

The majority of skin cancers are linked to exposure to sunlight and UVA rays that can damage the skin cells. UVA rays have several lines of attack:

• They can damage the DNA of the cells which then release oxygen molecules called free radicals. A diet high in anti-oxidants can help to combat this process.

• They can deplete the function of the immune system.

• They can cause damage to certain proteins and fats within the cell.

• UVAs can lead to the activation of pathways and the development of new proteins that increase cell proliferation and inflammation.

However, many pieces of research seem to think that blaming exposure to the sun is too simplistic and that oestrogen and oestrogen-like chemicals can also lower immune systems for whatever reason. I do know that people with transplants taking immune suppressing drugs have to avoid the sun because of the risk of skin cancers forming. Poor diet and prolonged stress can also affect the functioning of the immune system.

Ironically a great deal of research focuses on the importance of sufficient vitamin D and skin cancers. As we know most of the vitamin D we get comes from the sunshine. I have already written a blog on the importance of vitamin D as an immune booster and its ability to normalize cell function. We can of course get some vitamin D from the foods that we eat. Namely oily types of fish like salmon, sardines and tuna. Also from egg yolks, fortified cereals, fortified plant based milks and mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight. You can now buy mushrooms high in vitamin D. Some people may of course go down the supplement route. Always check with one of your medical team first. 400-600ius a day is the recommended amount.

This eating plan should certainly boost your immune system as it is high in anti-oxidants that help to neutralize the damage that free radicals can cause.

Research highlighted that some anti-oxidants in particular showed potential specifically against skin cancers. It is important to note here that it is better to get the anti-oxidants from foods rather than supplements, as there seems to be more potential this way due to the synergistic effect that whole foods have as opposed to individual supplements.

It may be useful here to look at the anti-oxidants that have been particularly mentioned and the foods that you can get them from.

Beta carotene – carrots, butternut squash, mangoes, sweet potatoes. Anything with a red orange pigment and kale.

Lutein – squash, kale and collard greens

Lycopene – cooked tomatoes and tomato products, water melon and apricots dried and fresh.

Selenium – brazil nuts, and any vegetables grown in selenium rich soil.

Vitamin C – citrus fruits, berry fruits, fresh tomatoes and red peppers

Vitamin E – almonds, other nuts, full fat dairy foods, oils and eggs.

Although I have listed the anti-oxidants and food sources, if you try and eat a diet similar to the one posted (which is principally like the Mediterranean style diet) making sure that you have a wide variety of foods, then you will be doing exactly the right thing.

Omega 3 is not an anti-oxidant but is worth mentioning for its well documented ability to help reduce inflammation and to provide essential fatty acids. Omega 3 is abundant in oily types of fish, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds and their oils.

As always it is best if possible to avoid processed and pre-packaged foods, and foods high in sugars, as these have very little nutritional value, can be high in salt and hydrogenated fats and have been shown to deplete the immune system.

Written by Caroline in January 2018 - links updated 2021

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