A Holistic Approach to Skin Cancer Prevention
Skin Cancer Prevention and Protection From the Inside Out
Is skin cancer prevention really a thing beyond avoiding the sun? I certainly think so. In Functional Medicine, we view diet and lifestyle as the pillars of creating wellness, and when it comes to disease prevention, such as cancer prevention of any kind, it is no different. Ultimately, similar lifestyle principles will help you to avoid many of the chronic diseases that we see in our modern world: diabetes, heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, and you guessed it, cancer. This week’s blog will focus on a more holistic approach to skin cancer prevention, from the inside out. (You can find more on how to prevent skin cancer from the outside in here.)
On many blogs in the past, I’ve talked about the pillars of health and longevity: nutrition, sleep, movement, stress management and social connection. Today we are going to look deeper at the nutrition pillar in terms of specific vitamins and phytonutrients and their role in skin cancer prevention.
How do antioxidants work?
If you break it down, anti / oxidant – is a substance that counteracts damage from free radicals and reactive oxygen species which can cause cellular and DNA damage triggering diseases, cancer being one. Antioxidants and phytochemicals (aka plant chemicals) are found abundantly in food. One study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that UV (aka sun) exposure depletes antioxidants in the body, leaving us more susceptible to damage from the suns’ rays.
What are the best antioxidants to fight cancer?
The best way to get these antioxidants is by way of food. I do believe in supplementation but I always stress a food first approach when possible. When you are getting nutrients from food you are not only getting the vitamins and nutrients but you are also getting the fiber and all of the different components the plant which may make them more effective at providing protection.
Vitamin C has long been thought to be good for cancer prevention but the data has been hard to come by. That said, it is a power antioxidant and higher levels have been linked with a lower overall risk of cancer deaths. You’ll also see some companies putting Vitamin C in topical products with the thought that it might help to locally counteract UV radiation and sun damage, the jury is out on this.
Vitamin E is also a powerful antioxidant and prevents damage from free radicals from UV radiation and is an overall good anti-inflammatory. It is one that you don’t want to oversupplement with because there are risks of supraphysiolgic doses. So stick to getting it from foods: nuts, seeds, spinach and soybeans are great options!
Vitamin D is a big one. Vitamin D is an important immunomodulatory hormone that helps to enhance the defense against infection by up-regulating microbial peptides and dampening inflammatory cytokine production. Also, if you are like me and spend most of your time outdoors with sunscreen or sun protective clothing then you probably aren’t getting enough from the sun. I also have yet in my practice to see an optimal Vitamin D level on laboratory evaluation unless the person is supplementing, even here in sunny Colorado!
Beta carotene converts to vitamin A which has been associated with a decreased risk from some cancers and also boosts the immune system to be ready to fight disease. Think orange fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and peaches.
Omega 3 fatty acids are naturally anti-inflammatory and down-regulate an enzyme called COX-2 which is an inflammatory pathway. Many varieties of cancer can be linked to chronic inflammation. Omega 3s are found in fatty fish like salmon and sardines but can also be found in plant sources such as walnuts and flaxseeds.
Polyphenols and phytonutrients, particularly those found in teas like green tea (EGCG) and chamomile tea (apigenin) as well as curcumin found in turmeric have anti-inflammatory and tumor-inhibiting properties.
It is always best to focus on dietary sources and supplement if needed under the care of an experienced provider. And when thinking about about a holistic approach to skin cancer prevention, the basic principles apply. Eat real, whole foods and minimize processed foods as much as possible. Eat the rainbow in terms of plants to encourage diversity of phytochemicals and antioxidants that will support our gut microbiome and help to clean up any damage from UV radiation.
What else can I do do naturally prevent skin cancer?
Thinking about a holistic approach to skin cancer, all of the lifestyle principles apply, including exercise and sleep. Exercise is a way to clear the body of cellular damage and debris from the inside out through a process called autophagy. Exercise has also been shown to suppress tumor formation. Stress reduction is also a key component in keeping the body in homeostasis, or balance. Living in a state of chronic stress means our bodies are continually exposed to cortisol and epinephrine, the fight or flight chemicals. These endogenous chemicals are beneficial if you are say, being chased by a tiger, but not so good to be secreted ongoing everyday when you are stressed with commuting, work, family, etc. Having high levels of cortisol and epinephrine ongoing can weaken the immune system and has even been associated with increased risk of metastasis and tumor growth. Stress is connected with sleep and sleep is the time in which our body working to repair and restore homeostasis. We know that even one poor night of sleep is linked to worse immune function, which is not ideal when we are focusing on overall health and skin cancer prevention.
The good news is, Functional Medicine is well suited to dive deep and use a holistic approach to prevent skin cancer and all chronic disease by focusing on lifestyle interventions and personalizing treatment plans. If you are interested in working with me to prevent or reverse chronic disease, book a free call below!