Skin, the largest organ in the human body, serves as an outer layer of protection, defending the body against light, extreme heat or cold, injury and infection, while regulating water, lipid stores and body temperature.
Both external influences (sun exposure) and internal influences (an individual’s nutritional status) can compromise the skin’s ability to perform these functions and can lead to diseases such as skin cancer, or the abnormal growth of skin cells.
As you are preparing for your summer vacations or as you sit beside your pool each day, consider some of the following statistics:
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, affecting nearly one in five Americans. In recent years, skin cancer has been diagnosed more than all other types of cancers combined. 1
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common type of skin cancer, rarely is fatal. Basal cells are located beneath squamous cells and are responsible for the production of new skin cells.
Actinic keratosis is a common precancerous scaly growth or lesion that strongly predicts all major types of skin cancer, with nearly 10% of actinic keratoses leading to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer. 2 Squamous cells lie just below the skin’s surface (epidermis) and function as its inner lining. Fortunately, there is a high survival rate among SCC patients in the United States.
Melanocytes are in the lower part of the epidermis and produce the pigments that give skin its unique color. Cancer of melanocytes, or melanoma, is the rarest type of skin cancer, accounting for less than 5% of all cases, but it’s also the most dangerous and most fatal. 1 If detected early, the survival rate for melanoma is 98%, but once it metastasizes or spreads to the lymph nodes, the survival rate drops to 62%. 1 The average age at which melanoma is diagnosed is 63 for men and 56 for women. 2
From an economic standpoint, skin cancer costs American taxpayers millions in health care dollars annually. Although most forms may not be deadly, they can be disfiguring and frightening as they continue to return on the body.
There are several well-established risk factors for skin cancer. The disease is more prevalent in individuals who have fair skin, light eyes, or light hair, possibly because their skin contains less melanin (color pigmentation), which serves as a protective layer from ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Other risk factors include:
- Having a family history of skin cancer
- Having a history of sunburns
- Living in sunny, warm climates
- Living at higher elevations where UV rays are the strongest
- Having abnormal moles, that are irregular in shape and larger than regular moles
- Having the HPV virus
- Using acne medicines
- Having a weakened immune system
- Having breast cancer
One of the most prominent risk factors for skin cancer is excessive sun or UV exposure. UV radiation can induce premature aging and DNA damage and can act as a tumor initiator to the skin. 5 Nearly 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun. 1
One of the lesser-known methods for potentially lowering skin cancer risk is diet. We have years of evidence that a nutritionally enhanced diet may benefit individuals who are at high risk of skin cancer.
A plant-based diet rich in antioxidants has been associated with a reduced risk of many types of cancers.
Unfortunately, most Americans don’t consume adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables. In fact, only 14.8% to 19.1% of skin cancer survivors are meeting the American Cancer Society’s recommendation to consume at least five servings (or 2 1/2 cups) of fruits and vegetables each day. 6 These recommendations are far less than what a body needs to recover from the onslaught of toxins we inhale, ingest and think each day. We believe that at least 10 servings of vegetables a day is more of what our bodies need.
We believe that the vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and phyto-nutrients in whole foods are the best approach to ensuring our nutritional needs are met. The synergistic effect of many components in the vegetables and fruits are still undiscovered but readily respected.
In a 10-year prospective study, subjects who consumed the highest percentage of fruits and vegetables had a 54% reduced risk of SCC. Eating green leafy vegetables, especially, was associated with decreased risk of BCC tumors. 3
Another study asked people to complete a food frequency questionnaire. High intake of the following micronutrients was associated with a significantly reduced risk of melanoma compared with low intake: vitamins C and D, retinol (vitamin A), alpha- and beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, and lycopene. Compared with the lowest levels, high daily intake of the following food groups was associated with a significantly reduced risk of melanoma: 4
- Fruits: 1.6 or more servings
- Vegetables: 1.1 or more servings
- Fruits and vegetables combined: 2.1 or more servings
- Citrus fruits: 0.6 or more servings
- Dark green/yellow fruits and vegetables: 0.5 or more servings
- Omega 3 Foods: 0.3 or more servings
In another study, regular consumption (three or more servings per week) of celeriac and pomegranates was associated with a significantly reduced risk of BCC and SCC. Celeriac, more commonly known as celery root, also was associated with a significantly reduced risk of melanoma. Parsnips, red wine, and red berries, however, were associated with an increased risk of melanoma. 5
Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables function by eliminating free radicals and reactive oxygen species that can attack DNA and lead to diseases. Vitamins C and E are abundant nutrients in plants that act as antioxidants and may help protect against skin cancer. Vitamin C scavenges free radicals and restores the activity of other antioxidants, enhances the immune system, and hydroxylates lysine and proline in the synthesis of connective tissues proteins, which may alter tumor growth. Vitamin E is an intracellular antioxidant that prevents lipid peroxidation. 6
The primary defense for protecting yourself from skin cancer is definitely diet related. A secondary line of defense from the sun’s harmful UV rays is to emphasize environmental protection from the sun, such as using healthy versions of sunscreen and wearing protective clothing. Our bodies need some sun for the production of vitamin D but we don’t want our skin to burn. Short periods of sun exposure each day is optimal.
Research shows dietary factors may play a role in the prevention of skin cancer in both rodents and humans. 25 years of research on the Hallelujah Diet reveals powerful testimonies of those who suffered endlessly from skin cancers only to be blessed with a significant reduction in them after adopting the Hallelujah Diet. Click here if you want to learn more about how diet can reduce your likelihood of getting skin cancer.
- Skin cancer facts. Skin Cancer Foundation website. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts. Last updated June 4, 2014. Accessed January 3, 2014.
- Siegel R, DeSantis C, Virgo K, et al. Cancer treatment and survivorship statistics, 2012. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012;62(4):220-241.
- Ibiebele TI, van der Pols JC, Hughes MC, Marks GC, Williams GM, Green AC. Dietary pattern in association with squamous cell carcinoma of the skin: a prospective study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(5):1401-1408.
- Millen AE, Tucker MA, Hartge P, et al. Diet and melanoma in a case-control study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004;13(6):1042-1051.
- de Vries E, Trakatelli M, Kalabalikis D, et al. Known and potential new risk factors for skin cancer in European populations: a multicenter case-control study. Brit J Dermatol. 2012;167(Suppl 2):1-13.
- McNaughton SA, Marks GC, Green AC. Role of dietary factors in the development of basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer of the skin. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005;14(7):1596-1607.