Damage Control

Damage Control

Remember those lazy, hazy, crazy days of youthful summers, spending entire days playing outside? Back in those days before “SPF” became part of our summertime vocabulary, occasional sunburn was the cost of fun in the sun. And while you might have endured some pain and an occasional restless night’s sleep, you peeled and healed with no apparent harm.

Key word: “apparent.”

Skin damage from occasional sunburns lays the groundwork for the development of actinic keratoses (AK) later in life. AK shows up as lesions that are precursors of the two most common types of cancer: nonmelanoma squamous cell or basal cell cancer. More than a million new cases of these cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. every year.

But a new study demonstrates that if you’re one of the millions who have AK skin damage, you may substantially lower your risk of developing skin cancer by increasing your intake of one vitamin.

Surface protection

In the journal Clinical Cancer Research, scientists at the Arizona Cancer Center, University of Arizona (UA), note that a previous study conducted at UA showed that vitamin A supplements significantly reduced the risk of squamous cell skin cancer in patients with moderately severe AK. The vitamin A dose used in that study was 25,000 IU. So the UA team designed another study to test higher doses for both safety and efficacy.

Nearly 130 subjects with severely sun-damaged skin on their forearms were divided into four groups to receive daily doses of 25,000, 50,000, or 75,000 IU of vitamin A, or a placebo. Biopsies were conducted on the damaged skin of each patient before the study period began, and again one year later at the end of the study.

The effects of vitamin A supplementation were dramatic:

  • Placebo subjects: 25 percent had less skin damage when their pre-test and post-test biopsies were compared
  • 25,000 IU subjects: 65 percent had less skin damage
  • 50,000 IU subjects: 81 percent had less skin damage
  • 75,000 IU subjects: 79 percent had less skin damage

Needless to say, the researchers concluded that 50,000 IU of vitamin A is the maximum daily dose required for the most effective protection for sun-damaged skin. No significant toxic reactions were reported in any of the four groups.

Multiple benefits

Vitamin A is essential to the health of your eyes, bones, skin and immune system. Growth and healing also benefit from the antioxidants that this key vitamin supplies. Here are some vitamin A basics:

  • Fruits and vegetables with orange and yellow coloring, and green leafy vegetables contain beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A
  • The body poorly converts beta-carotene into vitamin A
  • The best dietary sources of vitamin A are animal products, such as eggs and liver
  • Cod liver oil is an excellent natural source of vitamin A
  • The problems with vitamin A toxicity are associated with supplements of synthetic vitamin A taken in high doses

Studies show that smokers with a high intake of beta-carotene are at greater risk of developing lung cancer. But for just about everyone else, it’s almost impossible to overdo vitamin A consumption, according to HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D. In fact, Dr. Spreen tells me there are only about two-dozen recorded cases of distress due to excessive vitamin A intake. Dr. Spreen suggests that 10,000 IU of beta-carotene vitamin A per day is adequate for most people.

Talk with your doctor or a dependable nutritionist to determine a vitamin A dosage that’s right for you.