Sunburn and Melanomas

June 06, 2006

Sunburn and Melanomas 

Competency #8  Good Fats and Bad Fats                 Reference:  In 2003, the National Academy of Sciences published a comprehensive review of melanoma “Don’t go out in the sun without sunscreen.  You might get a melanoma!” 

 It’s summertime and each of us has that well-worn phrase echoing in the back of our minds.  We’ve thought it’s all about childhood blistering sunburns and our fair skin that puts it all at risk.  This all may still be true.  But there is a caveat. and concluded that a component of melanoma risk was inadequate omega-three fatty acids.  One of the citations it referred to was a 10-year old Australian study that showed a 40% reduction of melanoma by the addition of fish to Australian diets.  

Australia sure has sun and has lots of melanomas.  I have a dear friend who has melanoma.  It’s a horrible cancer we should all fear. Here is the logic for why fish oil reduces melanoma risk.  For 100 years we have gradually processed our foods more and more.  Omega–3 fatty acids spoil rapidly.  Vegetable oils that keep the omega-3 fatty acids in them spoil in just a few weeks.  Purify them and they last for months if not years.  So, grape seed oil, rich in omega threes is purified and we end up with what we now call canola oil, with very low omega threes and composed mostly of omega-6 fatty acids.  This is good for shelf life. 

Omega–6s don’t spoil.  You can mass manufacture the oil for a low cost.  Our food costs much less than it did 100 years ago. That’s good. It has taken decades to discover the long-term consequences. The inadvertent unintended consequence is that the ratio of omega–3 to omega-6 fatty acids in our diet has changed from 1:2 to 1:20.  That’s a 10- fold shift.  Anyone knows that a 10-fold change in a recipe will change the recipe’s flavor.  10 times more sugar in a cake may make it taste differently.  Same idea for your body.  With dramatically altered ratios, our cell membranes are different and have different abilities to respond to the stresses placed on them.  

The hint we see in this research is that our skin can respond to the sun's rays a lot better when we raise our omega-3s in our diet.  So, it may be the amount of our ability to respond to the stress of the sun that matters as much as the stress itself. This is now the 4th article I’ve written with evidence that we need more omega-3 fatty acids: not for short-term effects but for long-term health consequences.  The American Heart Association has shown it’s good to prevent sudden death.  The Avon Pregnancy study from England shows pregnant women have smarter babies.  The Japanese have shown their autopsied brain cells have higher omega–3 content than American brains.  Now, the Australians are hinting our skin cells are healthier with more fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) too.  I suspect there will be more ideas to come.  The weave of this fabric is becoming more clear.  We need more omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. 

www. What Will Work for Me This Summer:  You still can’t get sunburned.  Start out slowly in the sun.  10 minutes a day at first.  And did I mention, at least one fish oil tablet a day?  I personally put light protective clothing on to avoid the sun.  Sunscreens don’t block UVA light very well, which also may be a big part of skin cancer, so I don’t use them much.  That’s another story.

This column is written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)