If you're fair skinned, chances are, you've had a sunburn at some point in your life. It's a pretty clear indication of an overexposure to UV radiation. But was the mistake purely a lack of topical sunscreen? Or could there be significance to your internal UV defense? Not only am I convinced that the sun has been improperly demonized in modern culture...
...But I believe the science shows that the nutritional side of sun protection is profoundly underestimated. When it is acknowledged in conventional medicine at all, it's usually an after-thought as compared to the importance of what you slather on your skin. Topical sunscreen can prevent a burn – no doubt. The question is: at what cost? **This article is not personalized medical advice, nor is it a recommendation that everyone should avoid topical sun protection. If we constantly covered plants with a sun-blocking wax because too much sun dries them up, they'd be in trouble...the question is, are we missing anything by blocking the sun entirely? There's no question people are born with varying degrees of genetic susceptibility to UV. But epigenetics suggests that, for most of us, many of our genes are not a life-sentence. Epigenetics: the study of how external influences can alter gene expression, rather than requiring a modification to the genetic code itself. Diet is one of the strongest modifiers of an environment to induce modified gene expression. Because of the skyrocketing rates of skin cancers, it seems logical as to why there would be so much fear of the sun in our culture. But remember, we did evolve for all of time, living under the sun, without any chemical sunscreens being slathered on the skin. With that in mind, here are what I think are the top 10 anti-sunburn nutrition superheroes! Links to all the peer-reviewed scientific literature. :)
1. What: ASTAXANTHIN (algae, krill, salmon) Study: The Protective Role of Astaxanthin for UV-Induced Skin Deterioration in Healthy People—A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial More: This is a carotenoid I have been taking for years, and I would experiment with large doses before going out in the direct sun for hours. And whenever I had a solid dose, I would not burn. *These are my personal experiences and not medical advice. Astaxanthin also balances energy and stamina, boosts immunity, and pretty noticeably speeds recovery time from physical activity. There's also a large body of research for protecting eyesight and macular degeneration. I find it so interesting the compounds that are the richest colors are the things best for the eyes. 2. What: BETA-CAROTNE (Leafy greens like Kale and Spinach) Study: The Role of Phytonutrients in Skin Health More: Beta-carotene (precursor to Vitamin A) is a "photoprotective agent" which means it suppresses and prevents damage done by UV exposure. 3. What: MACA ROOT Study: Hypocotyls of Lepidium Meyenii (Maca), a Plant of the Peruvian Highlands, Prevent Ultraviolet A-, B-, and C-induced Skin Damage in Rats Quote from study authors: "Maca extracts protect the skin of rats against UV irradiations and can be suggested as an alternative means of solar protection." 4. What: SULFORAPHANE (in broccoli and broccoli sprouts) Study: Sulforaphane mobilizes cellular defenses that protect skin against damage by UV radiation More: Sulforaphane is becoming a popular 'new kid' on the nutritional supplement block.The more I learn about the compound the more I am really stoked about its potential in nutritional health. It is found up to 10X more in raw broccoli as compared to cooked. Quote: "(isothiocyanate sulforaphane) reduces sensitivity to erythema, which is the superficial reddening of the skin, the first sign of sunburn." 5. What: LYCOPENE (tomato and watermelon) Study: Tomatoes protect against development of UV-induced keratinocyte carcinoma via metabolomic alterations Study: β-Carotene and other carotenoids in protection from sunlight More: A rich carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color. But, there's actually more lycopene in watermelons! Lycopene not only prevents UV damage, it helps repair it. Quote: "an optimal supply of antioxidant micronutrients in the skin increases basal dermal defense against UV irradiation, supports longer-term protection, and contributes to maintenance of skin health." 6. What: VITAMIN C (Blueberries/Strawberry/Guava/Citrus) Study: Red Raspberry Extract Protects the Skin against UVB-Induced Damage with Antioxidative and Anti-inflammatory Properties More: Studies show that long-term intake of optimal dosage of Vitamin C can reduce the potential for sunburn. There was also a study that looked at senior citizens in Southwest US, and found the more citrus they ate, the lower chance of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. 7. What: POMEGRANATES (anthocyanins and tannins) Study: Protective effect of pomegranate derived products on UVB-mediated damage in human reconstituted skin More: Evidence of protection from both UVA and UVB 8. What: MUSHROOMS Study: Mushroom extract inhibits ultraviolet B-induced cellular senescence in human keratinocytes Quote: "Results clearly showed that the mushroom extract (No. 28) suppressed the ultraviolet B irradiation-induced cellular senescence in HaCaT cells" (Senescence: deterioration of a cell) More: There are at least 29 bioactive components in mushrooms shown to protect from UVB-induced cellular deterioration (as well as boost the heck out of your immune system!) 9. What: EGCG (green tea) EGCG is an "epicatechin", a type of super potent antioxidant Study: Green tea catechin, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG): mechanisms, perspectives and clinical applications. Quote: "Various animal studies have revealed that treatment with EGCG inhibits tumor incidence and multiplicity in different organ sites such as skin (UV radiation and chemically induced)..."
Quote 2: "EGCG, in a transgenic mice model for skin cancer, has exhibited a preventive effect and/or improvement of the situation"
Quote 3: "EGCG has been shown to possess chemopreventive effects against broad spectrum of carcinogens by inhibiting...UV-induced skin carcinogenesis in the animal model"
10. What: FLAXSEED OIL Study: Photoprotective Effect of Flax Seed Oil (Linum Usitatissimum L.) Against Ultraviolet C-induced Apoptosis and Oxidative Stress in Rats More: Flaxseed for skin also improves elasticity, firmness, tone, complexion, etc. **Again these foods and compounds are not meant to be a replacement for a clean topical skin sunscreen – ideally from a responsible, organic brand. The information is meant to support your understanding of what a healthy body is capable of when provided with optimal nutrition.