Much of the recent research focuses on the sun-soaked Mediterranean. Despite their typically outdoor lifestyles, dwellers in this region are less likely to get melanomas than Americans, and some scientists believe that in addition to their olive skin tone, the disparity may be due to the two cultures’ very different eating habits. The region’s largely plant-based diet, brimming with vegetables and fruits as well as olive oil, fish, and fresh herbs, was found to cut melanoma risk by 50 percent in an Italian study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Researchers point to the diet’s antioxidants, substances thought to help protect against cellular damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is still the biggest risk factor for skin cancer, according to dermatologists. Here’s how the process works: UV light damages skin cells, which then release oxygen molecules called free radicals. If free radicals damage your DNA, they can alter it, and skin cells may turn cancerous and replicate. The good news is that having a large amount of antioxidants in your skin and body may neutralize the free radicals and thus prevent or slow skin cancer growth. In fact, research has shown that people who drank a daily antioxidant-rich beverage had 50 percent fewer free radicals in their blood after two weeks than those who didn’t drink the blend — and both groups were exposed to three to six steady hours of sun a day!
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