A frequent question asked by patients who have had melanoma or are at increased risk of melanoma is “What can I do or eat to decrease my risk of this deadly disease?” Strict sun avoidance, use of hats, sunglasses, sun protective clothing and frequent skin exams are obvious choices. The effect of foods and supplements are just starting to be studied. Very few human studies have been completed.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids seem to protect against ultraviolet (UV) damage. Daily tea consumption, shellfish, vegetables and fish were found to have protective benefits against melanoma. The “Mediterranean diet” (lots of fish and vegetables) also has preventive effects against melanoma.
Grape seed proanthocyanidins (GSPs) are found in high concentrations in grapes and reduce photoaging and inhibit growth of UV induced tumors.
Green tea orally or topically decreases oxidative stress and decreases the number and size of UV induced tumors.
Resveratrol is found in peanuts, fruits, grape skins, mulberries, and red wine. It protects against sunburn damage. It has antiproliferative effects against melanoma cells.
Lycopene (a carotene found in red carrots, papyas, watermelons and tomatoes) is the most effective carotene at reducing oxidative stress and seems to increase the skin’s defense against UV damage.
Compounds which have been studied but not yet found to have significant data in reduction of human melanoma include rosmarinic acid (found in rosemary), selenium, Vitamin D and Vitamin E. The studies on Vitamin D are mixed, with some showing lower melanoma incidence and improved prognosis and others showing no clear relationship with melanoma risk.
The take home: diet probably has an important role to play in the prevention or the development of many diseases, including melanoma. Future studies should clarify this and help guide us as to dietary changes and recommendations. For now, a diet that includes fish, vegetables, grapes, tea, peanuts and tomatoes sounds like a good start.