Phytochemicals Protect Against Sun Damage
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., affecting one out of every five Americans. UV rays produce harmful free radicals, which can damage our DNA and lead to cancer. While certain types ofsunscreen and sunblock effectively block UVA and UVB rays from the sun, a nutrient dense diet can enhance our natural defenses against UV rays by combating free radical damage. For example consider the following two phytochemicals.
|• Lycopene is a carotenoid antioxidant found in red and pink fruits such as tomato, grapefruit, and papaya. Studies show that lycopene has photo-protective qualities that prevent and repair DNA damage to the skin caused by the sun.2|
• Polyphenols are a family of antioxidants that possess anti-inflammatory and photoprotective activities that improve the overall quality of the skin. Polyphenols are found in most fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. Rich sources include onions (flavanols), cacao, grapes, peanuts (resveratrol), apples and green tea (catechins), citrus fruits (flavanones), and berries (anthocyanidins). Studies have shown that the catechins and flavanols offer significant protection against solar-induced skin tumors and also repaired UVB skin damage and increased skin circulation, elasticity and hydration.3
As a society, we tend to recognize tanned skin as an indicator of health and vitality. However, darkening the skin with the sun’s rays promotes wrinkling and aging of the skin. On the other hand, food-derived carotenoids are pigment molecules that can "color" the skin with a slight yellow-orange tinge providing protective health benefits. One interesting study found that people preferred the skin color caused by carotenoids over the skin color from a suntan, suggesting that carotenoids contribute to a healthier and younger looking complexion.4 There is a direct correlation between skin color and health: skin with an orange tinge reflects a healthy, nutrient rich diet.
A diet rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants provides protection against skin damage and cancer and is also an effective way to achieve healthful looking skin.
1. Skin Cancer Foundation: Skin Cancer Facts. October 14, 2010]; Available from: http://www.skincancer.org/
2. Rizwan, M., et al., Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photodamage in humans in vivo. Br J Dermatol, 2010.
3. Heinrich, U., Neukam K., et al. Long-Term Ingestion of High Flavanol Cocoa Provides Photoprotection against UV-Induced Erythema and Improves Skin Condition in Women. J. Nutr. June 1, 2006 vol. 136 no. 6 1565-1569
4. Stephen, I.D., Coetzee, V., Perrett, D.I., Carotenoid and melanin pigment coloration affect perceived human health. Evolution and Human Behavior, 2010.