Eat Greek for Healthier Skin

In the summer, it is a hobby of many people to lie out in the sun and work on their tans. Unfortunately, if done in excess, this hobby can lead to painful sunburns and possible skin cancer. A new study from the Tel Aviv University suggests that an effective way to prevent this is not only suntan lotion, but eating the correct foods. A diet rich in anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids – common in Mediterranean regions – can protect the skin from the sun’s rays.


The sun produces ultraviolet radiation that penetrates the Earth’s atmosphere. Exposing human skin to these UV rays results in a darkening of skin color. The body’s natural defense in protecting itself against this is to create a skin pigment called melanin. Melanin combines with oxygen (oxidizes), and this creates the tan color in the skin. However, overexposure can cause melanoma, which is a less common type of skin cancer, but results in 75% of all skin cancer related deaths. UV radiation also attacks the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to repair itself.

Dr. Niva Shapira of Tel Aviv University’s (TAU) School of Health Professions says the prescription is to “go Greek.” This means eating foods common in a Mediterranean diet such as olive oil, fish, yogurt, and colorful fruits and vegetables. In combination with traditional methods such as suntan lotion and appropriate body coverings, this will combat the oxidizing effect of solar UV radiation.


The solution, Dr. Shapira explains, is to build up anti-oxidants in the body. She performed experiments at the Baltic Sea in conjunction with Prof. Bodo Kuklinski of Rostock University. They organized two groups, one of which consumed a drink high in anti-oxidants, the other had beverages such as soda. The group which drank the anti-oxidants had half as many oxidizing products (i.e. MDA) in their blood after five to six hours of exposure to the sun per day for two weeks.

Some of the most helpful anti-oxidants are carotenoids, which are colorful fruit and vegetable pigments. This includes the reds of tomatoes and strawberries as well as the bright oranges of carrots and pumpkins. Other good foods include fish, olive oil, and whole grains.

Foods to avoid include red meat, processed foods, and alcohol with the exception of red wine which is actually good for your skin. Also, people should avoid foods containing the compound psoralen (i.e. parsley, celery, dill, cilantro, and figs).

This study is timely, especially with the specter of climate change. Higher temperature and humidity can aggravate the damages from UV rays to the point where sunscreen may not be enough.


Also, society has reached a point where it has become fashionable to have a deep tan. This was not always so. In earlier civilizations, dark tans were associated with long hours of manual labor out in the sun, and therefore, a lower social class. Some women would apply heavy makeup to their faces to appear as white as possible, a trend that continued to the Victorian Era. Sun bathing then became popular in the mid-20th century, starting with fashionistas and media stars. Now, record numbers of women work on their tan year round (tanning salons also expose the skin to UV radiation!). Hopefully, Dr. Shapira’s research with TAU will help these ladies avoid potential skin diseases.

For more information on anti-oxidants: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/antioxidants

by David Gabel

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 at 11:35
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