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Protect yourself; There's never been a better time to go nuts if you want to help protect yourself from the sun's rays. Chomping through a handful of Brazil nuts a day could cut the risk of skin cancer, new research has found.

Byline: VICTORIA KENNEDY

Brazil nuts are packed full of selenium, a wonder antioxidant that has been found to protect the skin against the damage of harmful ultraviolet sunrays, which can cause skin cancer.

Dermatologists recommend a daily seleniuim supplement 200mcg - the equivalent of just eight to 10 Brazil nuts - in order to help protect against the potential dangers of the sun.

Dr Roddie McKenzie, senior lecturer in dermatology at the University of Edinburgh, who led the study, took skin cells and treated them with selenium 24 hours before exposing them to ultraviolet (UV) light.

The results, to be published in The British Journal Of Dermatology this month, showed the pre-treated cells had the same low level of damage as cells not exposed to the light at all.

Most people don't realise that as well as causing sunburn, the sun can damage the DNA in your skin cells. This is because the sun triggers free radical production in your body, creating unstable molecules which break down and alter skin cells and their DNA.

This can lead to cells multiplying out of control to form cancerous tumours. But scientists have found foods containing antioxidants have special healing properties, enabling them to mop up free radicals in your body and prevent them from damaging your skin cells.

There is also evidence that certain foods can boost your immune system, helping the body to fight tumours and prevent them from becoming cancerous.

Sunscreen and protective clothes and hats are the best line of defence from the sun and can stop the UV rays from getting to your skin in the first place. But, if the sun does penetrate your skin, it is less likely to damage cell DNA if you have high levels of antioxidants, like selenium, in your system. But it's not just selenium-packed Brazil nuts which can help fight the danger of skin cancer. Crunching a carrot a day or having a couple of bites of chocolate could help to protect your skin from damage.

With skin cancer now the most common cancer in this country, taking whatever precautions possible has never been more important.

Nearly 60,000 people develop non-melanoma skin cancer and about 5,000 get the more serious melanoma condition every year in the UK, with about 2,000 deaths from the two diseases.

Dr McKenzie said: "There is no substitute to wearing a sun hat, protective clothing and sun cream when you go out. However our research, along with that of other groups, has shown that selenium protects skin cells from much of the damage caused by UV radiation. We should certainly all get a daily allowance of up to 200mcg of selenium."

Here are a few foods you should throw into your shopping basket, along with your sun cream, when you next pop out to the supermarket.

Oily fish

LIKE Brazil nuts, oily fish such as herring and mackerel contain selenium, which, latest research shows, helps protect skin cells. As well as acting as an antioxidant, research suggests that selenium can boost the body's immune system to help it fight and destroy potentially cancerous tumours. But, in order to fully benefit, you will have to eat a whole 100g fish a day. This will provide you with 40mcg of selenium - about a fifth of the recommended dosage of 200mcg a day. Alternatively you can eat about 10 Brazil nuts for the same effect.

Or take a selenium supplement: try Selenium-ACE supplements, pounds 4.25 which are available in most high street pharmacies.

Chocolate

EATING a few bite-sized pieces of chocolate a day has been shown to produce 'anti-cancer activity' in the skin cells. Research shows chocolate is high in antioxidants and polyphenol, which help protect our cells against sun damage. Chocolate also has a flavonoid compound called epicatechin, which studies have shown can prevent chemically induced skin cancers in test mice.

Tea

RESEARCH carried out in Arizona, US, showed drinking three cups of black tea a day led to a 40 per cent drop in developing a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma - the second most common skin cancer in this country, which mainly occurs in older people. It's thought polyphenols in the tea cause cancer cells to self-destruct. Adding a touch of lemon to the tea also dramatically helped - lemon peel contains a vital cancer fighter called d-limonene, which was found to reduce the risk by up to 70 per cent.

CARROTS

CARROTS are rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gets rid of free radicals and also helps the body to create vitamin A, another antioxidant that helps to protect the cells from damage. Spinach, apricots, cantaloupe melons and mangoes are also good sources of beta-carotene.

Broccoli

BROCCOLI and leafy green veg are great ways of getting the antioxidant vitamin E. A recent study found taking vitamin E and beta-carotene for 12 weeks before a holiday increased sun protection. Vitamin E can also usually be found in suncreams as it can protect the skin from burning.
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Title Annotation:M Health
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Jun 5, 2003
Words:832
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