Sunscreens: Health Concerns and Skin Cancer Prevention Strategy

Paul L. Reller L.Ac. / Last Updated: August 03, 2017

The widespread use of sunscreens is now the subject of much debate concerning actual protection against skin cancer, blocking of UV radiation that is necessary to produce the prohormone Vitamin D3 cholecalciferol, and even as a probable cause of skin cancer when containing a Vitamin A derivative, retinyl palmitate, that is found in over 40 percent of sunscreen products, as well as a host of other chemicals found to be carcinogenic. It is time that we stopped over-simplifying the subject of sunscreens and cancer prevention and started serious discussions of effective sunscreen protocols. The present attitude and 'know-nothing' approach benefits only the sales of sunscreen products and not public health.

Most sunscreens are effective at preventing sunburn, but are they effective at preventing cancer? Skin cancer incidence does not seem to have been reduced by the widespread use of sunscreens statistically, especially deadly skin cancers, or melanomas, the rates of which have been steadily rising for decades. Of course, there are a variety of factors that are applicable to this analysis, and thus much debate on the subject goes on. Most sunscreens protect against ultraviolet B sun radiation (UVB), the cause of sunburn, which was believed to be the main cause of serious skin cancers attributable to excess sun exposure, or poor immune defenses against sun radiation damage. In recent years, it has been proven that ultraviolet A sun radiation (UVA) is also a significant cause of skin damage and cancer, although UVA is not associated with sunburn. The blocking of UVB also blocks the creation of the hormone Vitamin D3 prohormone, and this hormone D3 in circulation converts in melanocytes of the skin, and thus in cancerous melanocytes, to the hormone Vitamin D3 metabolite calcitriol, which is shown to inhibit cancerous growth and regulates beneficial cell apoptosis, or normal programmed cell death of a timely nature. So, theoretically, the eventual outcome of creating hormone Vitamin D3 deficiency with excess use of sunscreens could contribute to skin melanomas, or deadly skin cancer.

Sunscreens may inhibit UV radiation by either absorbing or scattering the UV light, and the fact that over 50 percent of sunscreens studied only inhibited UVB, not UVA, has led many to believe that the industry was only concerned about preventing sunburn, not skin cancer. These companies have also given an enormous amount of money to dermatologists to promote their sunscreens. Most sunscreens are labeled with SPF protection standards (sun protection factor) only, which does not tell the consumer whether there is protection from UVA. There are 17 approved sunscreen agents in the U.S., and more than 40 now in Japan. Japan is considered the leading country in both developing improved sunscreen agents, and researching and disseminating information to the public on the healthiest sunscreen agents. In addition to utilizing healthy sunscreens and topical herbs and nutrient medicines more effectively to prevent skin cancer, though, one can also explore a more complete protocol for prevention, as up to a third of skin cancers can be attributed to other causes than sun exposure. Diet in cancer prevention, for example, could be a very valuable tool for skin cancer prevention. The emphasis on all skin cancers, and even benign so-called precancerous lesions on the skin, instead of the small percentage of skin cancers and lesions that are potentially deadly, as well as the emphasis that the patient just needs to always use sunscreen, and of course, surgically remove all skin cancer lesions, even the nonthreatening ones, has led to a false assumption that we are doing all that we can do to prevent deadly skin cancer. After 30 years of this protocol, though, and the rates of melanoma increasing by nearly 2 percent a year among men and women of light skin, who use sunscreen religiously now, and with deaths from melanoma increasing by over 1 percent per year among light skinned men, we obviously have a problem with the overall prevention protocol.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, but the most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, which is rarely fatal, but can be disfiguring if allowed to grow. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most prevalent form, but melanoma, or cancer cells formed from pigmenting melanocytes, account for less than five percent of skin cancers, but a vast majority of deaths from spreading, or metastatic cancer. In the last few years, incidence of melanoma skin cancer has increased each year by about 2 percent despite the widespread use of sunscreen. The good news is that survival with melanoma increased from 49 to 92 percent by 2003. The bad news is that melanoma is one of only three types of cancer with an increasing mortality for men, along with liver and esophageal cancers, mainly affecting men over the age of 40. The reason for the overall increased survival rate is earlier detection and treatment, which depends upon patient understanding, as well as general understanding of signs of melanoma by general physicians. One overlooked aspect of skin cancer prevention and survival is the role of Complementary Medicine in prevention and as adjunct treatment, as well as greater understanding of skin cancer issues by the public. The dependence upon sunscreen technology has not really had the positive effect that most people believe it has. The belief that tanning salons and sunbeds are safer than getting a modest real suntan is also causing problems, as more and more young people utilize artificial tanning to avoid sun exposure, yet this increases the risk for melanoma by at least 75 percent. Recent studies have determined that tanning in a sunbed for 10 minutes has the same cancer causing risk as the equivalent time in direct sunlight in the equatorial sunbelt, yet a lack of patient understanding has not led to a better and safer program of skin tanning, or to utilization of options to prevent skin cancer with Complementary Medicine.

While the debate on sunscreens has produced the typical pro and con attitudes, the real debate should concern the most sensible and healthy approach to each individual's use of sunscreen as a protectant. It would be sensible to expose the skin to 5-10 minutes of midday sun without sunscreen to produce Vitamin D3 prohormone cholecalciferol. Exposing the skin to this short UV stimulation will not result in sunburn or significantly increase cancer risk, and will safely provide a little tan for those that desire a full body suntan. A little time spent in the sun without sunglasses would also stimulate much production of prohormone Vitamin D3 cholecalciferol. It would be sensible also to look at the labels on the sunscreen and do a little research on products. UVA protection is important, and the FDA should institute requirments to list UVA protection on these products, as well as UVB protection. Simple labeling of PDF is insufficient. Avoidance of retinyl A compounds seems sensible, as well as a host of harmful chemical ingredient discussed below, which have been proven to be carcinogenic, affect hormonal balance, are toxic and accumulative in our bodies, eventually affect liver and kidney health, as well as being bad for the environment, significantly affecting our drinking water and wildlife. Five out of six chemicals used in the sunblocking in commercial products are estrogenic, or estrogen mimics, and in accumulative tissue dosage over time, could be triggers to breast and prostate cancers, as well as disrupters of the endocrine system. One common ingredient that is estrogen-like, 4-MBC (4-methyl-benzylidene camphor) was tested on laboratory animals, applied to the skin in dosages similar to what are used in sunblock application, and caused a doubling of the rate of uterine growth. While human studies need to be developed and financed, this research creates a strong indication of the potential for this chemical to contribute to endometriosis and cancer.

While many pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies are now heavily advertising better and safer sunscreen and sunblock products, the public should still be skeptical. The current advertising aims are to promote products free of chemical fragrances, emulsifiers and preservatives, which have been shown to be creating many cases of allergic reactivity in the United States and across the world, and also to promote UVA protection. Unfortunately, there is a stubborn attitude in the industry to defend potentially harmful chemical ingredients. Titanium oxide is now touted as the natural cell protector, but as a link to an informational website below shows, these chemicals are problematic in skin lotions in modern chemical forms that utilize nanoparticles. In its natural state, titanium oxide may be beneficial to the skin, yet in a refined ultrafine state, these chemicals have been studied and found to be able to penetrate deep into the body and potentially induce a response that contributes to irritation of the trachea, bronchioles, and other tissues, and are potentially pathogenic. (Churg et al, Univ. of British Columbia; 1999).

While it is widely assumed in society that sunscreens are proven to prevent melanoma skin cancer, this is not true, and is still the subject of intense debate. An industry article by T. Bombeli, MD, BBA, for Somerset Cosmetic Company in Renton, Washington, touts the chemical achievements and pros and cons of current chemicals in sunscreens, but states: "Whether or not sunscreens can also reduce the occurrence of melanoma is still debated." Sun protection factor is not questioned. Actual protection against the most harmful skin cancer is still being debated. The act of preventing UVB sunburn with a chemical sunscreen may be lulling consumers into a false sense of safety and allowing the excess exposure to UVA radiation, which is increasing cell mutation and the risk of skin cancer. To approach the subject of true protection against skin cancer, the consumer must take a more intelligent and proactive approach to sun protection. 'See no evil' is not an intelligent and scientific approach, and the mere prevention of sunburn by using a sunscreen may not be preventing cancer. Use of more natural sunscreen lotions that reveal the level of UVA protection, increased use of a physical barrier when the sun exposure is prolonged, such as a light colored long sleeve shirt, pants and brimmed hat, and allowing a limited amount of midday sun radiation to stimulate the skin and eyes, are all parts of a more intelligent and healthy approach. The blind dependence on sunscreens may actually be leading to increased harmful exposure, or prolonged exposure to midday sun, as avoidance of sunburn also eliminates nature's evolved warning sign, sunburn. In addition, the notion that we must use sunscreen whenever we expose skin to sun, even for a 5-10 minute period, prevents our healthy responses to UV radiation that have evolved over time, decreasing valuable production of Vitamin D hormone precursors, as well as natural resetting of our diurnal clocks in the neurohormonal system, and perhaps even preventing the healthy functional relationship between our melanocytes and keratocytes that protects us from autoimmune psoriasis. A more intelligent and nuanced approach is needed to achieve better protection against skin cancer and prevent the yearly rising of skin cancer incidence and mortality.

Risk assessment for skin cancer

Most skin cancers are benign or limited, easily detectable, and treatable at an early stage. When your risk of skin cancer is high, you need to understand which skin cancers are most threatening, and be able to identify these lesions before they spread to other tissues in the body, or metastasize. The invasive skin cancers are called melanomas, or cancerous mutations of the melanin producing cells in the skin. The lifetime risk of developing any invasive cancer is about 42 percent, currently, with most cases occurring toward the end of life, as the immune system weakens, and tissue regeneration is poorly controlled. About 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and about 1 in 3 Causasians in the U.S. will develop a skin cancer, according the Skin Cancer Foundation. Most of these will be focal or benign, but melanomas may quickly metastasize, and need to be distinguished from squamous cell and basal cell cancers at an early stage. Melanomas are the least common type of skin cancer, but cause about 75 percent of skin cancer related deaths. Melanin is not only a pigment, but is important in the hormonal and neurological systems in the body, and this will be explained in a section lower in this article. Melanomas are identified at an early stage by skin lesions that are changing with shape and color. They are differentiated from common skin moles, which are common benign dark pigmentations, by noting assymetrical irregular borders, variegated color, and increasing diameter over 6mm, or about the size of a pencil eraser. It is essential to identify these melanomas at an early stage, as less than a fifth of all melanomas diagnosed early become metastatic. If there is a suspicion of a developing melanoma, one should see a dermatologist to rule out cancer. At later stages, the melanoma mole may itch, ulcerate or bleed. Melanomas are much more prevalent for light skinned females before the age of 40, but after the age of 40 many more light skinned men than women develop melanomas. Before the age of 40, incidence of melanoma in light skinned women is just under that of breast cancer, and preventive measures should be adopted.

In recent years, much alarm is generated from a diagnosis of skin cancer, yet a vast majority of these are so-called pre-cancerous lesions or basal cell carcinomas, neither of which is threatening. 2.8 million people are diagnosed yearly in the United States with basal cell carcinoma, and an increasing number are given a diagnosis of pre-cancerous lesions, generating an enormous amount of unnecessary surgery. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimated that at least 13 million non-Hispanics with light skin had had one of these diagnoses of nonmelanoma skin cancer by the beginning of 2007, with this number exploding since then. Precancerous lesions most often occur in actinic keratosis, a small, raised and rough area on skin that is routinely exposed to direct midday sun, usually on the hands, forearms and face. Even the American Cancer Society acknowledges that there is scientific proof of protection against these skin cancer with herbal medicines such as Milk Thistle, or Sylimarin, Green tea extract (internally or topically), and Resveratrol, and scientific proof of these effects is available below in Information Sources, with links to the study summaries. More and more Chinese herbal medicines are showing promise in the prevention of skin cancer, and may be used both topically and internally. Professional herbal salves are commonly used and contain these studied herbs, and while we must wait years for human clinical trial to confirm efficacy, this seems inevitable. It does not hurt to have well made professional herbal salves on hand to at least apply when excess sun exposure occurs, or when actinic keratosis is first noted.

A number of risk factors are associated with a higher risk for skin cancer. Of course, the most obvious factor is whether you sunburn easily. The second most obvious risk is when one tans a lot, or spends a lot of time at work in the direct sun without clothing protection. Tanning with lamps and tanning beds also poses a higher risk if done to excess. The third most obvious risk is when you live in high altitude, where sun radiation is strongest. Other risks include fair skin (less melanin pigment), blond or red hair, light-colored eyes, and easy freckling of skin, as well as the presence of moles, and so-called precancerous skin lesions (rough, scaly patches that range from dark brown to pink, most commonly found on the face and lower arms, called actinic keratoses). A weakened immune system is also a concern, as is increasing age. Light skinned women should be more concerned before the age of 40, and light skinned men after the age of 40.

Skin cancer is no different than other cancers when assessing overall risks, and general considerations should be applied as well. General health and diet is an important consideration, as confirmed by numerous studies, as is attention of environmental concerns, especially exposure to strong electromagnetic fields and radiation. A diet high in red meat and simple carbohydrates produces a much higher risk of developing invasive cancer than one with abundant fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. Cigarette smoking and high alcohol consumption have always been considered a high risk behavior. Obesity, depression, and a family history of cancer are also strong risk factors, and the underlying health imbalances of obesity and depression should be addressed with holistic therapy.

A number of dietary strategies have been researched to help prevent cancer. These include periodic taking of a folate (5MTF is the active folate supplement), selenium, zinc monomethionine, DIM, nuLIgnan, and Vitamin E tocopheral, as well as incorporating foods with these nutrients into your diet. General dietary recommendations include sufficient garlic, onions, whole grains, legumes, dark leafy green vegetables, fish, green tea, healthy cold-pressed oils, such as olive and walnut, and a glass of fine wine with supper. Healthy fats in the diet are especially important when reducing risk of skin cancers. Healthy fats and oils will supply the correct balance of essential fatty acids, which are essential to immune function, hormonal function, and tissue health. Unstable polyunsaturated fats, which include most of the commercial fats now used in processed foods, such as transfats, are more easily damaged by sun exposure when incorporated into the skin cell structures.

Choosing an effective and safe sunblock

As stated, there are a variety of chemicals, many from natural sources, that provide either absorption or scattering of sun radiation, and are proven to protect against UVB (ultraviolet B radiation) and/or UVA. There are also ingredients in some of these lotions that are promoting healthy skin, and since our own skin, and the melanin producing cells in particular, are our best protection against sun radiation, this would seem sensible. In addition, some ingredients that superficially improve the feel of the skin, such as retinyl palmitate, have been proven to promote cancer when overused. We all would like the question of the best sunblock and the best way to use sunblock to be simple, but unfortunately, in a society where profit determines the product, greed will probably cause misleading advertising and product design to predominate. The solution for the public is to sift through the contradicting information provided by companies promoting their product, and dermatologists that have an investment stake in certain products, and discover how to demand a safe and effective approach that works with our body's physiology to actually protect us from damage.

While sun radiation is toxic to our cells, like oxygen, we have evolved a dependence on these two ingredients, and a proper utilization of sun radiation and oxygen are vitally important to our health. Without sun radiation, our bodies do not produce the prohormone Vitamin D in our skin, as well as an array of other essential nutrient chemicals. With just 5-10 minutes of direct exposure to midday sun, our bodies may generate 20,000 IU of prohormone Vitamin D cholecalciferol.

This amount of sun exposure will not cause significant burning, which is the threat that increases skin cancer risk. We absorb much of our sun radiation and create cholecalciferol via the eyes, and going without sunglasses occasionally is recommended. We can protect ourselves from sunburn without sunscreen by wearing light clothing that covers the arms and legs, and wearing a hat that protects the face and neck. Many people are also unaware that sunscreens easily wash off the body, even with sweating, and many simply lose the uniform attachment to the skin, or absorb into the body over time, affording poor protection. A habit of putting on protective clothing as a physical barrier when you start getting sunburned would seem to be a smart habit, much smarter than the dependence on chemical sunscreens.

Some ingredients found in skin lotions and tanning aids are especially healthy for our skin cells, such as seed oils, rich in essential fatty acids, L-Tyrosine (the building block of melanins), Riboflavin, Shea butter, etc. There has also been decades of research into natural products that defend against sun radiation, such as Vitamin K and various natural lipids. Unfortunately, companies cannot patent these naturally derived chemicals, and so they are avoided in products to obtain maximum profitability. Natural biologic agents proven to protect against sun radiation include green tea extracts, curcumin, milk thistle, genistein in Gingko biloba, garlic compounds, resveratrol (in a concentrated form from various Chinese herbs), carotenoids (Vitamin A compounds), Vitamin C, Vitamin E (plant oils called tocopherols), red clover extract, and ferulic acids (olive oil). These products can be utilized both topically and internally, and both protect against sun radiation and protect against cancer. While they may not prevent sunburn as well as the synthetic products, a little sensible protocol can be adopted to prevent sunburn, such as the better use of physical barriers. The best and most intelligent way to reduce the risk of sun induced skin cancer is to utilize these herbal and nutrient strategies and adopt a more natural protective set of habits.

There are a host of potentially harmful ingredients in sunscreen lotions. Many products contain pthalates, such as DEHP and DBP, which have a dose-dependent toxicity to the liver and kidneys, accumulate in the body tissues, and allegedly cause hormonal disruption. Pthalates are now being banned in many products worldwide. Besides retinyl palmitate, many other potential carcinogens have been recognized in various sunscreens, such as diethanolamines (DEA, TEA), padimate-o, titanium oxide. There are also a host of ingredients besides pthalates that may disrupt the hormonal balance, such as benzophenone (oxybenzone), homosalate, octyl-methoxycinnamate (octinoxate), and the parabens (methyl-, butyl-, propyl-). These ingredients, and others, have also been found to be bad for the environment. A significant level of benzophenone has been found in surface water, ground water, soil and air, and has been investigated for damage to the liver and bone marrow of wild animals. Of course, eventually these chemicals will end up in the lakes and oceans, affecting a wide array of animals and plants. As the population consumes more and more of these sunscreens with chemicals that do not break down easily, the toxicity level and threat rises.

While potentially harmful over time, these common organic and inorganic chemicals used in sunscreens should be intelligently utilized by the public. The current chemicals that filter both UVA and UVB are oxybenzone, octocrylene, and Mexoryl XL, whereas PABA esters, salicylates, and cinnamates absorb only UVB. The inorganic compounds commonly used are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The older forms of these inorganic compounds are safe but do not reflect all the UV spectrum, so smaller particles were developed. As stated, there is evidence that these nanoparticle metal oxides do penetrate deep into the body and may potentially pose health risks.

What one can do to prevent skin cancer besides using sunblock

As stated, the safest and most reliable way to prevent skin cancer from excess sun radiation is to put on physical blocks, such as light colored, thin cotton clothing that covers the legs and arms, and hats with brims that protect the face and neck. Besides this strategy, limited use of the safest sunblocks and sunscreens is advisable, utilizing these products to prevent skin damage from sunburn. Topical creams that have green tea extract, milk thistle silibinin, magnolia extract honokiol, or other proven herbal products that prevent cancer cell mutation may be used as well. In addition, promoting healthy skin and skin cells may be more important to prevention of skin cancer than the use of sunblock. Nutrients such as biotin, beta-carotene, methylselenocysteine, Vitamin E tocopherols, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, bilberry extract (bil-lutein), magnesium potassium aspartate, taurine, active folate (5MTHF), and zinc monomethionine all have shown the potential to promote healthy skin cells. L-tyrosine and cysteine are the backbones of melanin, and methylselenocysteine and N-acetyl cysteine may be of benefit. Antioxidants such as resveratrol, quercetin, and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), may provide significant benefits to keep skin cells healthy when stressed, and of course, maintaining a physiologically normal level of the hormone Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is perhaps vitally important. These nutritional supplements do not need to be taken all of the time, forever, but if there may be deficiencies or needs for these medicinal supplements, they could be very important. All of these nutrient medicines also treat and prevent other health problems, and intelligent prescription of nutrient medicines by a physician with education in this field, such as a Naturopathic Doctor or Licensed Acupuncturist and herbalist, could make a big difference in the prevention of skin cancer.

One should understand how sun radiation produces cancer in order to intelligently utilize your protocol for protection and decreased risk. UVB radiation has been referred to as the Burning Ray, and produces blood vessel dilation and inflammation. UVA, often called the Aging Ray, does not produce the visible redness, or sunburn, or at least less of it, but does damage the skin cells by penetrating more deeply and causing cell death (seen as wrinkles and premature aging). By preventing burning, but exposing yourself to excess UVA radiation, especially as climate change occurs and with it changes in the protective atmosphere of the planet, you increase the risk of aging skin and skin cancer. Typically, strong UVB sunscreen agents will allow you to get excess midday sun exposure without burning, but this may not prevent skin cancer or aging effects. A 5-10 minute direct exposure to midday sun will not appreciably increase skin cancer risk, and may make the skin age more gracefully, and provide production of useful hormone Vitamin D3. After this short exposure, limiting the direct sun exposure by wearing a light colored cotton shirt, dress or trousers, as well as a light colored wide brimmed hat is advisable.

Additional Information and Information Resources with Links to Scientific Studies

  1. A 2010 New York Times article reviews the current expert research on sunscreens:
  2. The U.S. EPA has long been lagging in its investigation of the environmental harm from cosmetic and pharmaceutical chemicals, but an increasing scrutiny is finally being performed: http://www.
  3. An extensive website that explains the harm in many ingredients of sunscreens is available here:
  4. A 2015 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that rates of melanoma in the U.S. have increased for most of the population by 1.1 to 2.4 percent per year between 2002 and 2011, despite widespread use of sunscreens:
  5. Studies such as this one from 1990 find that a host of natural products afford UV protection:
  6. A review of scientific study by the University of Belgrade, Serbia, in 2011 found that a wide variety of herbal skin products provide protection and prevention of skin cancers, including green tea extract, aloe, sesame oil, and to a lesser extent olive and coconut oils, all of which can be infused with herbal products easily, and herbs and nutrients rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, and phenolic acids have a high potential as adjunct care in skin cancer prevention:
  7. A 2010 article in the Journal Clinical Cosmetic Investigative Dermatology by Joshua Berlin of Dermatology Associates in Palm Beach, Florida, gives information on the standard array of treatment options for so-called pre-cancerous actinic keratoses, which may be monitored to detect a future cancer threat, or may be removed in a number of ways other than harsh surgical or chemical interventions:
  8. In 2013, scientists started investigating herbal therapies for squamous cell skin cancers, such as this trial of a cutaneous injection with Viscum album extract in Germany:
  9. In 2012, scientists at the Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences, in Ahvaz, Iran, noted that tea tree oil has exhibited anti-skin cancer activity in studies:
  10. In 2012, scientists at South Dakota State University, in Brookings, South Dakota, U.S.A. showed that the common Chinese herbal extract honokiol, from Magnolia (Hou pou), inhibited skin tumor progression by 49-58 percent in animal studies, and reduced tumor size by 70-89 percent, as well as reducing tomor incidence by 40 percent in skin cancer:
  11. In 2010, scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.A. found that honokiol, a constituent of the Chinese herb Magnolia officianalis (Hou pou), could be developed as a topical agent for the prevention of UVB-induced skin cancer:
  12. In 2012, scientists at the CSIR Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, in Lucknow, India, investigated an herbal extract called Nexrutine, from the Chinese herb Phellodendron amurense (Huang bai), and found that this herbal medicine could be useful adjunct therapy in skin cancer prevention and treatment:
  13. In 2012, scientists at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, Denver, Colorado, U.S.A. found that a chemical in Milk Thistle, called Silymarin (the active metabolite is called Silibinin), showed strong preventive efficacy against UVB and UVA induced skin cancers and progression of skin cancers, useful both topically and internally:
  14. As early as 2002, these scientists at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, in Denver, Colorado, U.S.A. found that the herb Silymarin, or Milk Thistle, was shown to be an effective agent for both prevention and treatment in skin cancer:
  15. A 2013 study at the Barts and London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London, showed that omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (krill oil) inhibit growth of nonmelanoma cancer cells, and induce programmed cell death, or normal apoptosis, in pre-malignant keratinocytes in skin, acting to prevent cancerous skin lesions:
  16. A 2011 study at the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Uttar Pradesh, India, found that the combination of Resveratrol (A Chinese herbal extract found in minute quantities in grape skins and wine) and black tea polyphenols, showed much promise in the prevention of skin cancers in animal studies:
  17. A 2014 multicenter study at Okayama University, Gunma University, and the Aichi Cancer Center Research Institute, in Okayama, Gunma and Nogoya, Japan, found that the Chinese herb Cordyceps (Dong Chong Xia Cao) exhibited significant anticancer properties with human melanoma cell lines, including inhibition of angiogenesis, induction of apoptosis, and down-regulation of the VEGF growth factor:
  18. A 2015 multicenter study at the Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago, Illinois, USA, and Dalian Medical University, in Dalian, China, found that an active chemical in Ginseng, Ginsenoside Rg3, exerted significant anticancer activities against melanoma cell lines, via a number of pathways, suggesting that Rg3 may be a potent medicine to treat melanoma:
  19. A 2009 study at Norfolk and Norwich University, Norwich, United Kingdom, analyzed the rates of melanoma and the methods of reporting melanoma diagnostically in a population. In a portion of the United Kingdom comprising about a fourth of England, called East Anglia, which includes Cambridge, London, Norwich and Bedford, the annual reported incidence of melanoma increased from 9.39 to 13.91 per 100,000 people, but this increase was mostly due to the increased reporting of stage 1 disease, which presents minimal risk still, and no rise in the incidence reported of the other stages of the melanomas. The overall mortality from melanoma did increase from 2.16 to 2.54 per 100,000, though. The research revealed that the increase in stage 1 lesions also did not correspond to sites of sun exposure on the body. These experts concluded that the medical industry was 1) overdiagnosing benign skin cancers, 2) mistakenly attributing almost all of these skin cancers to overexposure to sun, 3) performing unnecessary treatment on more and more early lesions that were not threatening, and 4) not addressing the need to discover the other causes of melanoma so that we could find a better prevention strategy:
  20. A 2013 study of the hormone Vitamin D3, by the New Jersey Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A. found that our expanded knowledge of the hormone Vitamin D3, whose precursor is created in the skin by melanocytes, shows that hormone Vitamin D receptors are apparent in skin cells, and appears to play a role in cancer prevention. Of course, if we continuously use sunscreen that blocks this hormone Vitamin D3 precursor from forming, and create hormone Vitamin D3 deficiency, the end results for many patients could be increased risk of melanoma:
  21. Nonmelanoma skin cancer rates incidence is explosive in the United States after a decade of strict advice to avoid sun and always use sunscreen - many experts now feel that the strict sun avoidance and sunscreen use has led to a Vitamin D3 hormone deficiency that actually drives skin cancer:
  22. A 2002 review of all published scientific studies of dietary factors in the prevention and treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancer and melanoma, by the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, Connecticut, found that the literature supported topical antioxidants, Vitamin D analogs, and beta-carotene with Vitamins C and E at that time:

Diet & Nutrition, an important consideration in the prevention of skin cancer

The Chinese were perhaps the first culture in history to adopt dietary recommendations as part of a public health program by government. Of course, diet and nutrition, from a medical perspective, is a huge subject. The most sensible way to approach health benefit from diet and nutritional medicine is to both study this science and consult with a knowledgeable physician whose medical schooling incorporated nutritional medicine in its curriculum, such as a Licensed Acupuncturist or Naturopathic physician. The prevention of skin melanomas requires that the medical field starts looking outside the box for other causes of deadly skin cancer besides overexposure to sun, and a new protocol for prevention and treatment, not just promotion of sunscreen use and increases in unnecessary treatment for benign skin lesions. These strategies have been profitable, but have not advanced the goal of decreasing incidence and death from skin melanomas. A more holistic protocol would involve dietary protocols, as well as research into the array of potential causes of deadly skin cancer, and integration of Complementary Medicine into this whole treatment and prevention protocol.

Most organizations that focus on cancer now heavily promote foods and diets that may help to fight and prevent cancers. For instance, the American Institute for Cancer Research now lists these foods that are proven to fight cancer: dark leafy green vegetables, berries, garlic, grapes, green tea, whole grains, cruciferous vegetables, flaxseed, legumes, soy, and winter squash, and states that study will apparently also soon support mushrooms such as shitake, kale, chili peppers, carrots, walnuts, pomegranates, papayas, onions, and melons. This implies that a plant-based diet rich in varied fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes and whole grains, with some fresh healthy nuts and seeds, may help dramatically in prevention of cancers. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that evidence for skin cancer prevention supports antioxidants and flavonoids, especially beta-carotene, Vitamin A, zinc, selenium, Vitamin E tocopherols, as well as active folates (5MTHF), essential fatty acids, and chemicals found in herbs and foods, such as curcumin, apigenin, resveratrol, and quercetin. They also support topical herbal preparations, citing one made with Melissa, Turmeric, potassium iodide and various Chinese herbs. They support acupuncture as an adjunct cancer therapy as well. A Licensed Acupuncturist and herbalist that is knowledgeable may be able to advise on diet as well as supply topical and herbal medicines, nutrient medicines, and acupuncture, providing the right amount of support that is individualized and tailored to the need and budget of the patient.

The human metabolism needs a rich varied diet. This is what we have evolved into. Our bodies have always been primarily vegetable, grain, fruit, nut, seed and herb consumers historically. Meat consumption came late in our evolution, yet today we are led to believe that meat should be our primary source of nutrients. We only need to look at the structure of our teeth to understand logically that we were not originally meat eaters. Dietary habits can become a type of belief system, though, and the strength of these beliefs can be powerful. Even late twentieth century anthropologists have stuck to beliefs that early humans migrated out of Africa in search of meat, while science tells us that this migration occurred because of climate changes that effected that fields of seed grains that were the diet staple. Study of stone tools in many parts of the world show that harvesting of seed grain and vegetable roots were a key to human cultural evolution, and modern scientific tools that now can analyze microbotanical evidence clearly keep pushing back the earliest timelines of organized agriculture and trade of seed grains and root.

Today, many of these same seed grains that were the key to our evolved health are foreign to us, as agribusiness has reduced our staple grains down to the most profitable wheats, corns, and soy hybrids. Local crops and home gardening, which produced a high percentage of our food in the past, have all but disappeared, and megafarms and enormous livestock factories, where animals are raised in very unhealthy conditions, produce the clean packages of preserved foods that be buy in the supermarket. This is not to say that one must suddenly become a vegan vegetarian, which presents its own set of metabolic challenges and changes in the body, but it does logically point to a healthier analysis of what we should be eating to maintain the most efficient bodily health and prevent commone diseases from ruining our lives. Of course, eating healthy meats and fish as a relatively small percentage of the diet is nutritionally beneficial. Many scientific studies now confirm, though, that a diet dominated by unhealthy red meats creates various imbalances and stresses in our bodies that ultimatedly lead to common diseases. Even the beliefs of what constitutes healthy meat has been manipulated by big business, though. Lean cattle are not healthier than cows fed a traditional healthy diet, and who develop a proper degree of fat. Corn fed cows, and cows fed industrial feed are not healthier than cows that graze on grasses and fresh seed grains. Turkeys, which are now primarily hybrids that are raised in filthy conditions, do not produce the healthiest meat for your children. Spending more on naturally healthy meats and eating smaller portions guarantees a healthier diet. Experimenting with a variety of whole grains, beans, legumes, and fresh vegetables to complement these healthy meats will make a dramatic difference in your overall health.

The most publicized imbalance related to excess meat consumption is the essential fatty acid imbalance, commonly referred to as a deficiency of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. This refers to the fact that excess red meat consumption produces excess arachidonic acid, and relative deficiency of the inflammatory mediators created from linolenic and linoleic acids, namely healthy prostaglandins. Eating too much meat and uhealthy meat products has been shown to be very unhealthy for a variety of reasons, slowing digestive elimination, allowing excess fermentation in the gut, creating an acidic environment, etc. Our medical industry has done little to correct this basic nutrient disease-creating problem, instead creating pharmaceuticals that block inflammatory mediators, or prostaglandins, rather than restore the ability to achieve healthy inflammatory mediation. We now have warnings and restrictions on all NSAIDS and synthetic COX2 inhibitors, and lack of healthy inflammatory mediation is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer etc. There are many amino acids and proteins in grains and vegetables, and they are much easier to digest than from a meat source. Meat from animals with health problems is also deficient in certain nutrients, just like we are deficient in essential nutrients when we eat an unhealthy diet. Eating unhealthy meat creates dangerous nutrient deficienies by both consuming deficient nutrients from the meat, and also by decreasing intake of healthy grains, vegetables etc. Visit a modern feedlot to see just how unhealthy today's commercial meat is.

Another health problem surrounding the dominance of red meat in our diets and lack of seed grains and fresh vegetables, is the effects of a chronic acidic diet on our hormonal balance and regulation of mineral balance in our bodies. One of the chief functions of our hormonal, or endocrine system, is the regulation of charged mineral molecules, especially calcium, in our bodies. Calcium, as well as other common minerals, are large molecules that hold a high degree of electrical charge, or ionic energy. Acidity is determined by a measure of pH, or electrical potential of hydrogen, which carries a very useable free electron. This pH is a standard for the electrical potential, which could be referred to as a type Qi in Daoist medicine, and refers to the fact that our bodies operate optimally at a highly controlled level of acidity, namely a pH of 7.0 in most tissues, but a varied regulation of pH in the digestive processes, as well as other metabolic systems. To regulate this pH, the body mainly utilizes charged mineral molecules, especially calcium and magnesium, but also phosphates, and mineral salts containing bicarbonate, a combination of hydrogen, carbon and three oxygen molecules, which is highly regulated by the hormonal system and the kidney, to maintain optimal healthy function. When the body struggles with buffering a chronic acidic system it pulls excess amounts of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals from the body and forms buffers. In older individuals this often leads to osteoporosis, especially if the hormonal system has also been challenged by poor menopausal health, by use of synthetic hormone replacement, of by drugs that challenge the healthy maintenance of the kidney and adrenal functions. While modern pharmaceutical medicine has treated osteoporosis with drugs that block the endocrine system from pulling minerals out of the bones to buffer the chronic acidic condition, it doesn't take a scientist to understand how unhealthy the consequences of this therapy could be. To read more of how a varied whole grain and fresh vegetable diet can reverese osteoporosis, read the New York Times article below in additional information.

Diet as an important part of medical treatment protocol in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Complementary Medicine - combining centuries of public health traditions with modern scientific research

Unlike standard allopathic medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Complementary Medicine has always emphasized the importance of healthy dietary measures and restoration of essential nutrients to prevent and treat disease. China was the first country in history to officially create public health guidelines for dietary protocol, and the first to recognize that nutrient depletion is a cause of disease. Medicinal herbs help restore these nutritional depletions, and many Chinese herbs contain linolenic and linoleic acids, and other common essential nutrients that many be depleted and causative of your health problem. Certain plants develop high concentrations of these nutrients, which make them ideal medicines to quickly restore health. Nutrient cofactors also evolve in these medicinal plants, making them much more efficient than simple supplements in correcting nutrient imbalances. Today, TCM practitioners, or Licensed Acupuncturists, utilize professional herbal medicines that combine herbal formula with specialized nutrient supplements that help restore your nutrient balance and health based on sound scientific research.

Public research worldwide is now heavily focused on health issues related to nutrients. One example is the vast amount of research devoted to phytohormones, or plant-based hormonal chemicals. Lignans and enterolactones are chemicals that are now highly studied in relation to cancer prevention. Lignan precursors are key nutrients found in healthy grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and green vegetables, and are essential to our bodies creating healthy lignans, enterolactones and enterodiols. There are a variety of lignans and lignan precursors, and certain lignans are concentrated in medicinal plants. These lignans stimulate increased production of enterolactones and enterodiols that help maintain hormonal balance, prevent cancer, act as hormonal stimulators when there is hormonal deficiency, reduce cardiovascular risk, and play other key roles in health maintenance.

The term entero refers to the intestinal metabolism, and the enterolactones and enterodiols are produced when the bacterial balance in the intestines is healthy and we eat sufficient foods or take herbs rich in lignans and lignan precursors. To fully benefit from these chemicals and restore health, we need to take a holistic and comprehensive approach, restoring healthy flora and fauna to the digestive tract, eating locally grown organic vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, nuts and fruit, and correcting health problems that may inhibit our bodies' ability to utilize and metabolize these nutrients. One step instead of a holistic approach may not be effective, such as taking probiotics. If your gut flora and fauna are unhealthy, probiotic foods and supplements may not colonize efficiently. You may need to correct unhealthy intestinal enviroments first with herbal therapy and acupuncture, and then introduce quality probitics and nutritional cofactors to restore healthy gut flora and fauna. Healthy diet should be accompanied by healthy medical treatment and restoration. This is the key to success. A knowledgeable Licensed Acupuncturist can help identify and correct health problems, provide quality nutrient products that are specific to the individual, and guide the holistic approach to full restoration of your bodies' metabolism to prevent disease.

Another group of chemicals found useful in prevention of cancer are beta-glucans, such as are found in shitake (Lentula edodes) and wild mushrooms. The role of beta-glucans, such as Lentinan in shitake mushroom, as a chemoimmunotherapeutic in cancer prevention and therapy has been widely documented, and scientific studies in recent years have noted that these beta-glucans increase white blood cells, monocytes, cytotoxic T-cells, and help inhibit excess of key inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-4, IL-10, and IL-6. Such immununotherapeutic benefits can be very helpful in the prevention of skin cancers, aiding the body's innate defenses against radiation and the spread of cancerous mutations. Lentinan beta glucan polysaccharide has also demonstrated benefits modulating vascular reactions such as intradermal reactions against bradykinin, and antitumor effects against Sarcoma 180. These vascular modulations by this shitake metabolite have been shown to potentially aid immune health in the skin, and prevent tumor progression.

To help in this complex subject of healthy diet, since it is a very complex subject, let me urge you to buy a Paul Pritchford book on nutritional healing, called Healing with Whole Foods, and access the website of the Linus Pauling institute. Let me also urge you to seek professional guidance when necessary from a practitioner of Complementary Medicine, and finally, let me give you a few bits of information that may help. Of course, a small webpage article is insufficient to fully educate on the vast subject of nutritional health, and this is why we study this subject for years in medical school. Keep in mind that your medical doctor has received zero formal trainging in nutrient medicine. The Licensed Acupuncturist and Naturopathic doctor may have received much formal training. To instruct and entertain a little, here is a small list of some foods and why they are valuable:

  • Comfrey: extremely high in allantoin in both leaf and root. This simple herb food can be grown in a small garden, or the leaf & root are available, usually in a dried form or capsule, but unfortunately still unpopular in a fresh form. The young leaves are very tasty in a salad or with braised greens, and the root is tasty in soup stocks or other root dishes. Mature leaves should be avoided. Allantoin is a powerful antioxidant & anti-inflammatory immunostimulant, so comfrey is often found in topical herbal creams for skin healing. It is also a very good sunscreen and antidandruff agent topically. Allantoin is also useful to control excess stomach acid and treat indigestion. Other foods with a sufficient amount of allantoin include beets, turnip, rapini, soy, rice and tea (real tea, or camellia sinensis).
  • Green tea: Camellia sinensis is a common herbal drink and medicinal, now also commonly found in topical herbal lotions and salves, that originated in a large region of Asia from the Chines province of Zhejian to Vietnam, and was used as a medicinal herb as far back as 2700 BC. The Camellia leaf is rich in not only caffeine, but alkaloids, theophylline, theobromine and xanthine, as well as tannic acids and polyphenols. Research has shown that these polyphenols can protect agains aromatic hydrocarbon-induced skin tumor initiation and may markedly reduce the number and size of skin tumors in animal studies. The most active polyphenol is EGCG, or epigallocatechin gallate, which has now been shown to rapidly inhibit many cancer cell lines, as well as highly stimulate glutathione detox, and exert significant antioxidant effects. Green tea extracts are now widely studied and found useful in weight reduction, cardiovascular health maintenance, and are commonly used in skin care products.
  • Pumpkin seed: high in arginine and essential fatty acids of benefit, as well as plant steroid hormones, beta-carotene, copper, cystine, iron, lysine, magnesium, zinc, selenium, potassium, urease, tryptophan & tyrosine. The amino acids are often deficient in chronic health problems and essential fatty acids are essential to regulate inflammatory process. This food is available as an oil, or as a seed snack, or you can fix pumpkin and save and wash the seeds, lightly toasting them with a bit of soy sauce and oil. They taste great. Pumpkin seed has been found to be very beneficial to control benign prostate hypertrophy, a disease of deficiency in hormones & minerals as well as poor inflammatory regulation. Pumpkin seed would also benefit the woman with menopausal problems or fibroids. In fact, it would benefit all of us as we age.
  • Avocado: rich in the useful and often deficient Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), as well as essential fatty acids, amino acids (alinine, arginine, etc.), beta-carotene, biotin, calcium, copper, cystine, complex carbohydrates, iron, isoleucine, fiber, dopamine, serotonin, tryptophan, lecithin, magnesium, methionine, niacin, plant hormones, vitamin D, zinc. A few weeks of eating one avocado a day will do wonders to fulfill many nutritional deficiencies that you may be experiencing. Vitamin B6 is often a deficient nutrient, and is a group of chemicals that is very important in our metabolism. All of the vitamins are a group of chemicals, and not just a single chemical. Often, it takes a healthy liver metabolism and other nutrients to transform our vitamins into active metabolites. Just taking a pill will not always do the trick. B6 pyroxidine helps with pain relief, spasms, PMS, acne, depression, atherosclerosis, infertility, diabetes, neuropathy, kidney stones, anxiety and insomnia. Other sources of B6 include whole wheat, barley, barleygrass powder, soy, lentil, stell cut whole oats, & corn.
  • Walnuts: like avocado, walnuts are rich in essential fatty acids, amino acids and serotonin. Other serotonin rich foods include nettle, banana, and plum, although these common fruits have small amounts. Nettle can be purchased as a dried herb supplement, or if you are adventurous, stinging nettle is a common forest herb that can be harvested fresh using gloves. The stinging part goes away when the plant is cooked, and it tastes quite good as a vegetable or tea. It also prevents getting poison oak rash. Walnuts should be purchased in the shell to insure that the nut isn't rancid, which breaks down all of the useful chemicals and creates a lot of unhealthy oxidants. Toasted walnut oil is also a good source, but get a high quality in a metal container, as this oil goes rancid easily. Walnut is also high in plant hormones, biotin, inositol, calcium, citric acid, copper, beta-carotene, iron, lecithin, potassium, protein, quercetin etc.
  • Shallots: speaking of quercetin, a very valuable nutrient, tasty shallots are very high in this beneficial substance, as is evening primrose oil and steel cut whole oats. Quercetin helps with allergies, pain, viral infection, cancer, PMS, aging, asthma, autoimmune disorder, diabetes, prostate hypertrophy, candidiasis, poor liver function, birth defects, and neurological disorders. It is also a strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and MAO-A-inhibitor in depression. Other plants rich in quercetin include okra, garlic, beet, tea, escarole, endive, cilantro, parsley, buckwheat, sour cherry, black currant, rose hips, cranberry, ginger, spinach, valerian and milk thistle.
  • Melons: cantelopes, melons & muskmelons are all very high in linoleic acid, essential fatty acid of much merit. Linoleic acid is anti-inflammatory, liver protective, cholesterol reducing, cancer preventative, immunomodulator, and helps with eczema, prostatitis, skin disorders, allergic symptoms, arthritis, acne and heart disease. Other foods rich in linoleic acid include walnuts, avocado, safflower oil, hemp seed, pumpkin seed, cumin, coriander and evening primrose oil.
  • Sage, basil, cumin, coriander & caraway seed: these common cooking herbs are rich in beta-sitosterol, an important plant hormone that stimulates human hormone production of androgens, progesterone and estrogen while also being regulatory of estrogen excess. Beta-sitosterol is antioxidant, antiviral, anti-candida, antitumor, and helps with high blood sugars, blood lipids, and leukemia.

These are but a few of the many wonderful sources of beneficial nutrients often lacking in the modern diet. To explore more of these nutrient sources, purchase the nutritional guide books of Paul Pritchford or the good doctors Bach, or go the internet and search the Dr. Duke database at

Information Resources

  1. A 2009 New York Times article reveals research that finds a low-acid diet with reduction of meat and simple starches and high consumption of alkiline fresh vegetables to significantly prevent and reverse osteoporosis, and such dietary measures may applicable to skin cancer prevention as well, as studies are finally devised to afford greater public education of healthy ways to prevent cancer: