Nutrition and Healing

Catch 22: the sun gives, but it also takes away

Q: My family and I live near the ocean and we’ll go to the beach nearly every week once the weather warms up. But I’ve been reading some scary things about chemicals in sunblock lotions and sprays. What’s the best way we can protect our skin so we won’t all end up with skin cancer years from now?

Dr. Wright: Everyone is much better off avoiding chemical-laden sunblocks. I understand there are safer sunblock products now available, but they still might inhibit vitamin D production in your skin.

So it’s best to rely on nature’s original sunscreen: folate.

Folate and vitamin B12 are essential for DNA production and repair. Intracellular enzymes use these nutrients to fix damage caused by excess sunlight. Unfortunately, sun exposure depletes folate, so just about everyone needs a folate supplement. This will help prevent skin cancer along with several other types of cancer.

Folic acid is the most common form of supplemental folate. But this form is synthetic. A significant number of people don’t metabolize it well at all. In fact, excess folic acid may actually increase cancer risk.

I generally recommend 1,000 micrograms of methylfolate daily — especially during months of greater sun exposure when your folate levels are likely to become depleted.

Of course, this supplement will do its best work when combined with a high folate diet. So at the risk of sounding like your mom, I urge you to eat your vegetables! Brewer’s yeast is the best folate source, but spinach and deep greens such as asparagus and broccoli are also excellent sources. Others include beans (especially lima beans), wheat germ, and liver (but only from organically raised animals).

In the summertime, watermelon and cantaloupe will round out your best access to generous amounts of folate.

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