- Research shows that higher levels of vitamin A help reduce skin cancer risk
- Protective levels of vitamin A are higher than government recommendations
- Vitamin A can safely be consumed through diet and supplementation
Research on Skin Cancer and Vitamin A
We all know that spending time outside is healthy, but too much sun exposure puts us in danger of developing skin cancer over time. Most commercial sunscreens carry their own risks because they are absorbed into our skin, so we need to turn to natural options to stay safe. That’s why it is great news that new research suggests an excellent form of skin care protection can be attained through the consumption of vitamin A.
The study, which took place at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, found that a higher intake of vitamin A is associated with a lower risk of squamous cell skin cancer. These results are based on an investigation that included approximately 125,000 American men and women with an average age in their early 50s. The subjects answered questions about their typical diet and use of supplements.
Once the data was analyzed, it became clear that the participants with the greatest consumption of vitamin A had a 15 percent lower chance of developing squamous cell skin cancer over the 26-year follow up period. Squamous cell carcinoma is a very common form of cancer, with roughly one million cases diagnosed annually in the United States. This skin cancer generally occurs in areas of the body frequently exposed to sunlight, and it is more often found in those with lighter skin and in older populations, probably due to sun exposure over many years.
Vitamin A as Skin Cancer Fighter
What is it about vitamin A that might provide us with some cancer protection? A potent antioxidant, this vitamin is effective at the cellular level to keep skin healthy. The carotenoids in vitamin A destroy the free radicals that damage collagen, reduce the skin’s sun sensitivity, and help prevent redness and increased pigmentation from sun exposure. And a 2013 study at Charite – Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany showed that diets rich in carotenoids help prevent signs of aging and cell damage in skin.
But interestingly, in the current investigation, the lowest average vitamin A intake was approximately 7,000 IU daily, which is not that far below the maximum levels of 10,000 IU recommended by the National Institutes of Health. In fact, the study volunteers who benefitted most and had the lowest risk of squamous cell carcinoma were those consuming more than 21,000 IU of vitamin A daily—far above government guidelines. But many nutrition experts consider up to 25,000 IU perfectly safe for most people, which is strongly supported by research findings, with the only exceptions being those over the age of 65 and people with liver disease.
The Best Sources of Vitamin A
Eating a diet rich in a variety of produce should ensure you get an adequate amount of vitamin A in your system every day. Particularly good sources include sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, red peppers, cantaloupe, mangoes, eggs, broccoli, black-eyed peas, and salmon.
Keep in mind that plant sources do not contain actual vitamin A. Instead, they contain beta carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. The human body converts beta carotene into vitamin A (retinol). There are a couple of caveats when it comes to beta carotene.
- When it comes to supplements that contain beta carotene, make sure that it is real beta carotene, not the version synthesized from acetylene gas. The synthesized version, which is commonly used, is not only less effective but, in some, cases can be harmful.
- Also, when using beta carotene supplements, make sure that you are using a full carotenoid complex supplement. Some of the carotenoids normally found with beta carotene, such as alpha carotene, are even more potent than beta carotene. If you are using natural, organic, true beta carotene, that will automatically be the case. But if you are using the synthetic version, then you will not be getting the full complex.
Vitamin A is fat soluble and is stored in the liver. That’s why it can potentially accumulate over time and reach unsafe levels. But, as noted above, vitamin A is beneficial for most people at slightly higher levels, so if you don’t believe you are consuming enough through food sources, taking a daily supplement should be fine. Just be aware that side effects may arise if your levels of vitamin A become too elevated. If you experience nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, or vertigo, discontinue your use of the supplements right away.