Sun Protection Through Your Food

During the warm summer months, people tend to spend their days outside in the sun. Consequently, many of us are extra vigilant about using sunscreen to help protect our skin from the sun's harmful rays, which can do damage to both our skin and our immune systems by causing photo-oxidation of our cells.

However, using sunscreen can be a hassle and a mess, not to mention the recent concerns over some of the ingredients that are used in certain sun blocks. Needless to say, it can be enough to discourage people from taking the proper precautions.

Now, however, scientists believe that protecting our skin from the sun may be influenced by the foods we eat. In a paper published in Nutrition Reviews, researchers believe that the foods that are contained in the Mediterranean diet may have a protective affect on the skin. The diet would include foods that are rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Melanoma rates are in fact very low in the Mediterranean regions.

Nutrition experts believe that foods like olive oil, fish, yogurt, and fresh fruits and vegetables, especially colorful ones, might be a good way to complement other important methods of sun protection, including the use of sunscreen and wearing properly protective clothing.

Consumption of these antioxidants might better prepare our cells from the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. To study this possibility, researchers recruited volunteers and divided them into two groups. One group was given a drink that was high in antioxidants while the other group simply consumed regular beverages such as soda pop or juice.

Over a two-week period, the group that drank the antioxidant beverage had fewer oxidation products in their blood than the control group, even in lieu of 5 to 6 hours of daily sun exposure. Further analysis indicated that carotenoids, which are pigments in the skin of fruits and vegetables, actually accumulate in the skin and may thereby serve as a first line of defense against UV rays. In fact, these compounds are linked to the delay of skin erythema, which is an indicator of tissue and DNA damage that can be a precursor to skin cancer.

The findings may be particularly relevant due to the climate changes that we are currently experiencing. With the rising temperatures and the increased exposure to the sun's harmful rays, sunscreen alone may not suffice, especially when you consider people's busy schedules and the inconvenience of applying them. With this in mind, dietary changes would be a more plausible way to help protect oneself.

The authors also indicate that dietary supplements are not as effective because the benefits of a nutritious diet involve a complex interaction between foods. This "synergy" results in vitamins and antioxidants acting in conjunction with one another to provide a greater protective effect than the nutrients isolated in supplements.

For more information about the Mediterranean diet, visit the website for the American Heart Association.

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Guest's picture

Great stuff--

I think the long term effects that the sun has on our skin is a very overlooked topic in this country.

If our diet can help, that would make it that much easier to deal with.

Guest's picture

What was in the "antioxidant beverage"?