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Eat Right, Exercise, to Avoid Skin Cancer

Summer – and sun damaging rays – may be on the wane, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got it made in the shade, at least when it comes to avoiding skin cancer (the most common malignancy in the U.S.).

While the most relevant risk factors for skin cancer remain exposure to ultraviolet rays, family history and a fair complexion, research suggests that diet, exercise – and even your weight – may play a significant role.In addition to a generous (and frequently applied) dollop of sunscreen, here’s how to dose your diet for optimal epithelial health:

Reduce fat intake: Harvard researchers linked lower total fat consumption with diminished risk of basal cell carcinoma, while a study from Baylor College of Medicine has associated a low-fat diet with diminished risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.

Anti-tumor tumeric: this “spice of life” gives curry its golden hue and has long served as a staple in Indian and Asian cuisines.New research suggests the pungent yellow powder may inhibit melanoma malignancy and kill tumor cells.As explored in previous newsletters, tumeric’s active compound – curcumin – is gaining recognition for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Zinc link: research from the University of Washington suggests you might minimize melanoma risk with adequate intake of this mighty mineral, found abundantly in oysters, white beans, oats and green peas.The same research suggests a possible protective effect from vitamin E whose sources include almonds, sunflower seeds, red bell peppers and dark leafy greens.

Cut back on booze: Australian researchers found that women who consume two or more alcoholic drinks daily had two-and-a-half times the risk of melanoma as non-drinkers.

Workout, watch weight: the same University of Washington study cited above also found that frequent exercisers (5-7 days a week) were at lower melanoma risk, while higher body mass index was linked with increased skin cancer risk.Korean researchers found a similar correlation between melanoma and excess weight among men – though other research suggests that obesity does not raise the risk of actually dying from melanoma.

Faithful DNN readers already know that consumption of foods rich in beta-carotene (sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, cantaloupe, spinach) can act as a gentle internal sunscreen, while we’ve also covered pomegranate’s prowess in protecting your skin from the sun’s damaging rays.

Bottom line: Anything that increases free radical damage – smoking, exposure to toxins – can weaken your body’s natural defenses against carcinogenesis (the development of cancer), while those things that neutralize oxidative damage – for example, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables – can enhance your skin’s ability to protect itself against photo-damage.

Published August 29, 2005

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