Caffeine Protects Against Skin Cancer

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So how does a dermatologist like me protect against skin cancer? I go to Peet’s Coffee.

There are plenty of reasons to enjoy a cappuccino in the morning (if you can still afford it), and preventing skin cancer might be one of them.

Studies of mice have shown that feeding them caffeine protects them against ultraviolet radiation, which is similar to sun exposure for humans. The protection is most effective when the mice exercise. (So the researchers basically make them drink espresso then hit the exercise wheel.)

While epidemiologic studies and animal studies are helpful, it is nice to have a scientific explanation to support the claim. New studies show how it works.

Researchers exposed skin cells that were growing in culture to caffeine (possibly when one of the graduate students spilled his Red Bull on the petri dish). They then exposed the cells to damaging UVB light. They found that the caffeine-treated, UV-damaged cells underwent programmed cell death. When cells are damaged, but don’t die, they grow into cancerous tumors. When damaged cells die, they are no longer a threat to the body and are safely eliminated.

As sunscreens become more sophisticated, ingredients like caffeine will be added to soak up the damaging oxidants or to protect the skin from developing cancer. Botanicals like ferulic acid, derived from ferns, have proven themselves as powerful additives to sunscreens and are the future of sun protection.

Although there is not enough evidence to advise patients to drink more coffee as a means of sun protection, do you really need another reason to have a nice macchiato in the afternoon?

Photo: Burnt Phrases (flickr)