Eating plenty of carrots, broccoli and sweet potatoes may help prevent skin cancer, a new study suggests.
All of these vegetables – alongside other vegetables, certain animal parts and some fruits and legumes – are rich in vitamin A, a key nutrient to keeping skin healthy.
Not only will eating lots of these foods help to ensure that your body continually produces new skin cells, they may also guard against the cancer-causing effects of UV light, according to a new Brown University study.
It’s the first vitamin A study to follow subjects for more than 20 years and find that high intake of the nutrient is lined to a 17 percent lower skin cancer risk, the researches say – but they warn that just taking supplements won’t do the trick.
More the 19 million skin cells cover your entire body.
But each day you shed between 30,000 to 40,000 of them, meaning the body constantly hard at work producing new skin cells to replace the ones we lose.
Vitamin A plays a vital role in this process of not only making but maintaining skin cells, activating cells called fibroblasts that keep skin firm and healthy.
The precursor to vitamin A, called beta carotene is a potent antioxidant, which helps to clean up free radicals, roaming compounds that encourage the development of cancer cells.
Its involvement in healthy skin is clear, but little research has looked at the preventative effects of vitamin A (also called retinol) for skin cancer, which affects between seven and 11 percent of fair-skinned people.
If someone is at higher risk for skin cancer due to high sun exposure or a family history, upping vitamin A intake might offer a relatively easy lifestyle change to counteract those risks.
So researchers at Brown University studied a data set of 123,570 US men and women whose diets, habits and health outcomes were documented for more than 26 years.
Encouragingly, the scientists found that nearly everyone got sufficient amounts of dietary vitamin A, meeting and exceeding the US’s recommended intake of 3,000 IU for men and 2,331 for women.
Nearly 4,000 of the study participants developed squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.
But the more vitamin A they consumed in their day-to-day diets, the less at-risk for skin cancer the men and women were.
The same guard was not provided by taking oral vitamin A supplements however, suggesting that eating and digesting the nutrient in food is somehow important to reaping its benefits.
Topical creme forms of vitamin A, called retinoids fare sometimes prescribed to treat acne and help slow down aging by encouraging the production of new skin cells.
So a small previous trial tested whether the topical could help prevent skin cancer in veterans at high risk for the disease.
But that too had no significant effect on who got skin cancer and who didn’t.
Plus, synthetic retinoids have unpleasant side effects, like drying out the skin, making it red and irritated and more sensitive to sunlight.
The authors of the new study, published in JAMA Dermatology, suggest that boosting vitamin A intake in the diet might offer a better, more harmless way to combat skin cancer risks.
They note, however, that even when it’s consumed in part of the regular diet, too much vitamin A may be linked to greater risks for osteoporosis and hip fracture, major concerns for older people, who are also more likely to get skin cancer.
For everyone else, though, eating lots of carrots, sweet potatoes, sweet red peppers, spinach and black-eyed peas as well as beef and cod liver, might fight cancerous mutations in the skin.