As rates of skin cancer finally start to decline among young people after decades of climbing, it seems that many have begun to understand how to best protect their skin: vigorous application of ultraviolet-blocking sunscreen and donning sun-protective clothing.
But researchers haven’t stopped there in their quest to combat the most common cancer in the U.S. The next frontier in UV protection? Food.
A new study published in the journal Antioxidants suggests eating grapes can increase our resistance to those harmful UV rays.
“We know a healthy diet can help prevent some types of cancers,” says Dr. Sigrun Hallmeyer, an oncologist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “Researchers are now interested in what specific components of these healthy foods improve our health, and previous studies have pointed to the phytochemicals in grapes as having the potential to stave off skin cancers.”
The study found that, for some participants, consuming three servings of grapes per day for two weeks provided increased resistance to sunburn. Several of the study participants even demonstrated resistance to sunburn after 60 days, well after they had stopped consuming the grape diet.
To ensure consistency in the study, the 29 participants consumed whole grape powder, rather than actual grapes. The grape powder was made from fresh seeded and seedless grapes that were ground and then freeze-dried to retain their bioactive compounds.
Researchers began by exposing a small area of each participant’s skin to UV radiation to induce sunburn. The lowest dose of UV radiation that created a visible reddening on their skin was their baseline Minimal Erythema Dose (MED). The researchers performed the test again after the participants spent 15 days on the grape diet and again at 30 days, following a return to a normal diet. Of the 29 participants, nine demonstrated increased UV resistance, as measured by MED. Three participants also showed UV resistance at the 60-day mark.
The study also explored the impact of eating grapes on the so-called “gut-skin axis” – the interplay between these two organs and the microbes that live in and on them, also known as their microbiomes. The researchers found that participants who demonstrated UV resistance also had microbiomes with unique characteristics, suggesting that the microbiome is in some way involved in protecting the skin from sunburn.
“As the study’s authors suggest, much more research is needed in this field, but there are exciting takeaways from this study that could one day lead us to new ways to protect against skin cancer,” Dr. Hallmeyer says. “For now, I still encourage people to use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen and to invest in a good sun hat. And a healthy diet is always a good idea.”
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