Eating More Vitamin A = Less Skin Cancer?

A group of researchers at Brown University wanted to see if vitamin A intake was linked to lower rates of some types of skin cancers. Doctors and researchers know that vitamin A, also called retinoids, are an important part of the growth and health of skin cells. These retinoids also play an important part in how your genes create new cells. They can also help block the growth of cancer cells. There is even evidence in studies on animals that retinoids can have anti-cancer effects.

Could vitamin A mean less squamous cell?

While researchers were aware of the effect of retinoids on the cellular level, there was not a lot of data to back the suggestion that they have a protective effect against skin cancer. Researchers wanted to see if patients with higher intakes of vitamin A had lower instances of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a common skin cancer that tends to affect the exposed skin (face and head) of fair-skinned patients. SCC tends to be a slower-growing cancer, but early detection and treatment are important as SCC can spread to other parts of the body.

Sources on vitamin A and skin cancer

Researchers needed data that spanned many years and covered multiple health factors, such as medical history and lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. The researchers found their data in two sources:

What did they look at?

Researchers looked at subjects who didn’t have a prior history of skin cancer, and who reported their diet. Because people who have darker skin get SCC less often, researchers looked at those with lighter skin. Researchers then looked at the subject's dietary vitamin A intake and found that people who eat foods that are rich in multiple types vitamin A were less likely to have SCC, than those who didn’t. The researchers also looked at patients who had higher risk factors for SCC (fair skin, a severe or blistering burn, number of moles), and still found that those subjects with higher vitamin A intake were less likely to have instances of SCC.

Where to get vitamin A

It is important to note, that the patients with the highest intake of dietary vitamin A were also less likely to have smoked, consumed less alcohol and caffeine, and had higher physical activity levels than those subjects with lower vitamin A intake. These subjects also tended to be older and the female subjects were more likely to be post-menopausal. Researchers also found that patients who took vitamin A supplements did not have the same protective factors as subjects who got their vitamin A from their diet. This means that the best type of vitamin A comes from your diet, not vitamins and supplements. Sources of vitamin A include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Kale & other dark leafy greens
  • Cooked carrots
  • Eggs
  • Goat cheese
  • Salmon

Either way, vitamin A is good for you!

While the data from this study is promising, it is important to note that it doesn’t prove that dietary vitamin A protects patients from SCC. There is a strong correlation but again, the same subjects also were less likely to participate in other factors that can lead to poor health, such as smoking, consuming excess alcohol and leading sedentary lifestyles. More research will need to occur to show cause and effect.

In the meantime, eating a diet rich in vitamin A, (including yellow and orange fruits and veggies, leafy greens, eggs and fish) not smoking, getting more exercise and cutting back on alcohol consumption are all excellent ways to promote good health, so there would be no harm in adding any of these factors to your lifestyle.1 Your overall health may thank you!

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