According to an article published in the Journal of Nutrition, antioxidants consumed in supplement form appear to be associated with an increase in the rate of skin cancer among women but not men.

Results from recent studies have clearly demonstrated a link between diet and risks of various types of cancers. Researchers are now focusing on clarifying precise associations between specific dietary habits and risks of different types of cancers. Ultimately, understanding these associations may help to prevent a significant portion of cancers altogether. More evidence, for example, is indicating a reduction in cancers with increased consumption of fruits and vegetables compared with meat or processed foods. However, nutrients found in fruits and vegetables that are consumed in supplement form do not appear to provide the same protective effects against the development of cancers.

Recent research into a link between diet and cancer development and prevention has included skin cancer. There are three main types of skin cancer; each is differentiated by the type of cell within the skin where the cancer originates. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types of skin cancers but are the least aggressive. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer.

Researchers from France recently conducted a study to evaluate a potential link between antioxidant vitamins and minerals and rates of skin cancer. This study included 7,876 women and 5,141 men; participants received either an oral capsule of antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc, or a placebo (sugar pill) daily. The median follow-up was 7.5 years.

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  • Among women the overall incidence of skin cancer was significantly increased among those who took antioxidant capsules compared with those who received placebo.
  • Daily supplementation did not affect the rates of skin cancer among men.

The researchers concluded that antioxidant supplementation is associated with an increased rate of skin cancer among women but not men. These results provide further data that supplementation does not appear to help prevent cancers. Rather, a diet rich with fruit and vegetables appears to provide the greatest overall protection. In regards to risks of skin cancer, diet needs to be further evaluated in clinical studies.

Reference: Hercberg S, Ezzedine K, Guinot C, et al. Antioxidant supplementation increases the risk of skin cancers in women but not in men. Journal of Nutrition. 2007; 137:2098-2105.