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Guide to Preventing Skin Cancer   ( Home | Diet | Foods | Recipes )

Skin Cancer: Diet Plan for Preventing Melanoma

skin cancer diet

The paragraphs below provide 11 great diet and nutrition related tips that can help reduce your risk of skin cancer. Important notice: The information below and elsewhere on this website is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical or health advice. Always seek the advice of a professional health care provider.

#1:  Step Up Your Curcumin Intake

Curcumin, a plant pigment that gives turmeric its intense yellow color, has been praised for its medicinal and healing qualities in Asia for centuries. In recent years, curcumin has also stolen the spotlight in the West. Laboratory tests have shown curcumin to be able to induce self-destruction of melanoma skin cancer cells. Furthermore, curcumin can act as a potent antioxidant and may prevent nitrosamine formation and inhibit aflatoxin production — two processes which have been associated with an increased risk of cancer.

#2:  Avoid Excess Protein

More than hundred years ago John Beard, a Scottish doctor, discovered that the body's primary defense against proliferating cancer cells is pancreatin, a mix of enzymes that are also aid in the digestion of proteins. Diets rich in protein force pancreatic enzymes to focus on the digestion of protein rather than on the eradication of cancer. A certain amount of protein is necessary for the proper functioning of the body, but excessive amounts of dietary protein should be avoided if you want to reduce your risk of skin cancer. Some nutritionist believe that the body needs a protein-free period of approximately 12 hours a day in order to be able to effectively combat cancer.

#3:  Eat Foods That Deliver Carotenoids

Carotenoids in red, orange, and green vegetables can significantly increase protection against sunburn.

A diet rich in carotenoids may help protect the skin against harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Carotenoids are pigments that give fruits and vegetables such as carrots, cantaloupe, tomatoes, sweet potato, kale, spinach, and collard greens their vibrant orange, red, yellow, and green colors. There are more than 600 different carotenoids, but the most common carotenoids in the Western diet include beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and lutein and zeaxanthin. There is evidence that each of the five key carotenoids could increase protection against sun burn, especially when combined with vitamin E. This is believed to result from their ability to neutralize the harmful effects of UV light by scavenging skin-damaging free radicals. In one study, a daily intake of five tablespoons of tomato paste (rich in lycopene) served with olive oil increased the protection against sunburn by 33% (estimated to correspond to a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 1.3).

#4:  Cut Down on Alcohol

A frequent intake of alcohol has been associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer, including malignant melanoma, but the exact mechanisms by which alcohol causes cancer are not known. However, there are several proposed theories. The most commonly accepted theory is that alcohol is converted into acetaldehyde in the body — a chemical that also causes hangovers — and that this chemical induces DNA damage which can lead to skin cancer. In terms of quantity of alcohol consumed, the higher and the more frequent the intake, the higher the risk of cancer. However, even small amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of cancer (but possible reduce the risk of heart disease, particularly in older men and women).

Raspberries provide a concentrated source of ellagic acid.

#5:  Consume Foods That Provide Ellagic Acid

Ellagic acid may well be among your best weapons in the battle against skin cancer. According to research, ellagic acid is capable of clearing carcinogenic substances by activating certain detoxifying enzymes in the liver. Furthermore, ellagic acid has also been shown to can prevent carcinogens from attaching to cellular DNA. It has also been shown to boost the immune system, to induce normal self-destruction of cancerous cells, and destroy skin cancer causing free radicals. Ellagitannin — which the body converts into ellagic acid — is found in red fruits and berries, especially raspberries, as well as in some nuts such as walnuts and pecans.

#6:  Avoid Meat Products That Contain Nitrates

Nitrates are naturally occurring substances that are present in the air, soil, surface water, ground water and plants, including vegetables we eat. Food manufacturers also use nitrates in processed and cured meat products to give meat an intense red color. When you eat foods that contain nitrates, you body may convert the nitrates into nitrites, which in turn can form nitrosamines. There is a large body of evidence suggesting that nitrosamines can cause cancer. Luckily, antioxidants — such as vitamin C and E — have been shown to effectively prevent nitrosamine formation. As vegetables are typically rich antioxidants, nitrosamine formation should not be a concern when you eat vegetables containing nitrates. This is supported by population studies which have found no link between a high consumption of nitrate-containing vegetables and cancer risk, but which show that diets high in nitrate-containing meat products can cause cancer.

#7:  Eliminate Foods That May Contain Aflatoxin

Carcinogenic compounds can occur in foods when certain types of fungus grow on food and produce toxins during processing, storage, or transport. These toxins include aflatoxins which have been shown to damage DNA and which may lead to a higher risk of developing cancer. Peanuts appear to be particularly susceptible to contamination with aflatoxins, but also many other types of foods, including whole grains, legumes, nuts, and spices are vulnerable to the fungus producing aflatoxins. These poisons are resistant to cooking and freezing, but care in selecting your foods can greatly reduce your risk of exposure to these toxins:

  • Select fresh seeds, nuts, legumes, and grains (or at least avoid nuts and grains from last year's harvest)
  • Look for signs of proper storage and avoid foods from countries that have substandard storage requirements
  • Discard nuts that taste stale or look suspicious
  • Eat green vegetables that are rich in chlorophyll to further reduce the risk of harmful impacts of aflatoxins; chlorophyll has been shown to reduce aflatoxins levels

Beta-glucans, abundant in mushrooms, have strong anti-cancer properties.

#8:  Eat Plenty of Foods Rich in Beta-Glucans

Beta-glucans are naturally occurring polysaccharides that are abundant in certain fiber-rich foods such as cereal grains and mushrooms. Research suggests that beta-glucans can help fight skin cancer by passing immune cells into the cancerous area and by destroying cancer cells. The anti-cancer properties of beta-glucans have also been observed in numerous animal tests.

#9:  Reduce Fat Intake, Especially From Animal Fat

A high dietary intake of animal fat has been associated with an increased risk of cancer. One particular compound that seems to play a major role in this context is arachidonic acid, found primarily in fatty red meats, egg yolks and organ meats. This omega-6 fatty acid has been shown to enhance cancer growth and to facilitate its spread within the body. It may also be capable of destroying cells of the immune system involved in the protection against skin cancer. In contrast, omega-3 fatty acids — found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel as well as walnuts and flaxseed — can help guard against skin cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids appear to protect the skin from UV damage, which may be among the possible mechanisms for their skin cancer preventive activity. However, despite the skin cancer preventing qualities of omega-3 fats, it is wise to limit the total intake of fat to approximately 20% (of total caloric intake) because all fatty acids, including omega-3s, stimulate the production of bile. Bile may be converted into apocholic acid, a proven carcinogen, if a lot of fat stagnates in the large intestine for too long.

Studies confirm vitamin C and E can provide protection against skin cancer.

#10:  Ensure a Sufficient Intake of Vitamin C and E

Research suggests that a sufficient, long-term intake of vitamin C and vitamin E can reduce the sunburn reaction to UVB irradiation, thereby contributing to a lowered risk of skin cancer. In one study, subjects were given a combination of vitamins C (1g) and E (500 IU) for a period of three months. A significant rise in vitamin serum concentrations, associated with an increased protective effect, was found only after one month. The protective effect of these vitamins is believed to result from their antioxidant properties. It makes sense to combine foods that contain vitamin C with foods high in vitamin E as these two nutrients act synergistically.

#11:  Be Sure to Get Enough Selenium

Improving dietary intake of the trace element selenium through foods such as Brazil nuts, crimini mushrooms, cod, shrimp, and halibut may help protect the skin from the sun. The potential beneficial effects of selenium on the skin are based on the role this trace element plays in the antioxidant system of the body: selenium is an important component of several enzymes involved in the body's antioxidant defense. To reap selenium's skin cancer fighting powers, combine selenium-rich foods with foods that contain vitamin E (selenium boosts the effectiveness of vitamin E).

For more information on the nutritional approach to reducing your risk of skin cancer, check out: