7 sun-sational tips that block skin cancer

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Sun damage accumulates over time, so your risk of skin cancer gets higher every year. And because everybody gets a dose of UV radiation when they step into the sun, skin cancer is the most widespread cancer in the United States. 

The only way to completely avoid UV radiation is to never go outside. But who wants to live their whole life in the dark? Learn 7 practical ways you can cut your risk of skin cancer.

1.  Ward off UV rays with your wardrobe. What you wear matters, especially when it comes to stopping the sun. UV rays can get through your clothes, so even when you’re covered from head to toe, you’re not really covered. Here’s how to dress for skin cancer success.

  • Choose dark, intense colors. Deeper, darker dyes give you more protection from the sun. Choose a dark blue shirt, for instance, over a light yellow one.
  • Look for heavy, tightly woven fabrics. Hold your clothing up to the sun. If you can see sunlight shining through, it isn’t going to protect you.
  • Seek out UPF-rated clothing. Ultraviolet Protection Factor measures how much UV radiation can pass through your clothes. A 15 rating is good; 50 or higher is excellent. Usually clothing with this rating is treated with a chemical sunblock and uses fabric weave and colors that are most protective.

2.  Caffeine fiends rejoice — your morning coffee has some serious perks. If you’re a coffee drinker, you know the day doesn’t really begin until you have that first sip. But what you probably don’t know is your morning routine could be protecting your skin.

A recent review of seven observational studies shows people who regularly drink caffeinated coffee are less likely to get skin cancer than non-coffee drinkers or those who go with decaf. And the more you drink, the better. People who downed four or more cups of caffeinated coffee daily lowered their risk of melanoma by 20 percent compared to people who avoided coffee, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The key to coffee’s cancer-fighting prowess is the caffeine. It blocks UV rays from damaging your skin, just like sunscreen. Even better, it actually causes cancerous cells to die. Now, coffee shouldn’t replace sunscreen or smart sun habits, but it’s nice to know your morning joe comes with benefits.

3.  Spice up your life to thwart skin cancer. People have always searched for ways to make their food tastier. Thousands of years ago they turned to turmeric. And while this spice is still popular in curries today, researchers are just beginning to scratch the surface of its exciting health benefits.

Turmeric’s distinct yellow color is behind its cancer-fighting powers, thanks to a natural chemical called curcumin.

It works a lot like an email spam filter. Your cells are constantly sending messages back and forth. Most are helpful, but some are  like computer viruses, actually causing cancerous cells to form. Curcumin blocks the harmful ones — the dangerous spam messages — and lets the rest through.

You can always take curcumin supplements, but there’s evidence that suggests eating turmeric gives you more health benefits. If you’re not sure you’ll like it, test the waters by mixing a little bit into a homemade salad dressing or lightly seasoning some roasted veggies with it.

And whenever you eat turmeric, mix it with a bit of black pepper. It’s a great flavor pairing and helps you absorb all the cancer-fighting nutrients.

4.  Looking for a cancer-free future? Check your tea leaves. Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon scoured the world for the mythical fountain of youth, but never found it. He might have been able to come close if he just had a few tea bags. Drinking a mug of green tea is almost as good as sipping from the legendary spring because it can fight off skin cancer and prevent your cells from aging.

Green tea is chock-full of natural plant chemicals called polyphenols that shield your skin from sun damage. Not only do they protect you from UV radiation, but they slow down wrinkles and make your skin look younger. It gets better — they also fight everything from heart disease and type 2 diabetes to flu and bad breath.

If you want to harness all of green tea’s super powers, brew up a couple of steaming cups of this pleasant beverage every day. Just talk to your doctor before taking green tea supplements because they can cause severe liver damage.

5.  Chocolate — the delicious secret that saves your skin. The magic is in natural chemicals found in cocoa beans, called flavanols. These fight off damaging free radicals and inflammation, and protect your skin from harmful UV rays, reducing your risk of skin cancer.

While flavanols are present in most forms of chocolate, they are highest in dark chocolate. But even so, a lot of the beneficial flavanols are lost during processing. To make matters worse, you won’t find flavanols listed anywhere on labels.

  • Lavado, sometimes called “unfermented cocoa,” contains the most flavanols because it undergoes the least processing. The cacao beans are simply washed, dried, then ground. Look for this type of cocoa powder in health food stores or on the internet.
  • Natural, or “non-alkalized,” cocoa powder is made by fermenting the beans for several days, which destroys some of their flavanols. The cocoa powder sold in supermarkets is often natural cocoa.
  • Dutch cocoa is the worst. Not only are the beans fermented, but they’re also treated with an alkali solution to make the cocoa less acidic. All this processing removes up to 90 percent of its flavanols. Check ingredient lists for words like “alkalized,” “European style,” or “Dutched.”

6.  “B” on the lookout for this cancer-fighting supplement. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Shakespeare wrote in his famous tale of star-crossed lovers. The Bard knew a lot about love, but he obviously never had to buy a vitamin B3 supplement. If you’ve ever seen the labels, you know there’s a long list of complex options, all offering slightly different benefits. So how do you choose the right one?

If you’re worried about skin cancer, reach for a bottle that says nicotinamide or niacinamide. This is the active form of niacin, a type of vitamin B3 found naturally in foods like meat, fish, and peanuts, and often added to cereals. However, you can only get trace amounts of nicotinamide from food.

A yearlong study showed that people with a history of skin cancer, who took 1,000 milligrams of nicotinamide a day, dramatically lowered their risk of new lesions. Researchers think the supplement actually repairs cell damage caused by UV radiation, preventing cancerous cells from forming.

Be careful not to overdo your nicotinamide supplements, however. They won’t cause flushing, headaches, and low blood pressure like niacin, but they might cause liver damage if you take more than 3 grams a day. More than 2 grams a day can also decrease your insulin sensitivity. So if you’re at risk for diabetes, ask your doctor before trying a high-dose supplement.

7.  Boost omega-3 and safeguard your skin. Most people can’t stand anchovies on pizza. But if they only knew what they were missing.

No, not just a tangy, salty treat, but a heaping helping of omega-3 fatty acids that protect you from skin cancer.

Still not sold on anchovies? Don’t worry — other fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout are good sources, as well as walnuts, flaxseed, and fortified eggs.

Omega-3 fatty acids work by creating a buffer zone for your cells. They’re one of the first targets for cancer-causing free radicals, so they take the damage instead of other parts of your body. And they help reduce inflammation and increase your resistance to UV rays, which helps prevent cancerous spots from forming.

Shoot for about 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids a day to reap all the skin-saving benefits. You can get half that from a 3-ounce serving of salmon. If you’re not a fish fan, consider supplements.

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  • FC&A Staff Writer