You already know the fundamentals of protecting your skin from the sun; you lather your skin in sunscreen and avoid the sun when you can. New research has shown that there could be more to protecting your skin than just this, as it’s been suggested that the vitamins you’re taking could have an effect on skin health.
If you’re at a risk of developing recurring skin cancer, then one way to reduce the chances of remission is through taking vitamin B3 (Niacin). A new study from the New England Journal of Medicine has suggested that a certain vitamin B3 strain can reduce the chances of developing skin cancer by up to a quarter.
The study was performed by researchers in Australia – where the problem of skin cancer is a major issue that keeps Australia ranked in the top three for the number of skin cancer cases – and it looked at participants who had been previously diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers twice at the least.
These survivors are considered to be at high risk of a repeated cancer diagnosis because of their run-ins with squamous cell and basil cell carcinomas – the most common, if less deadly, varieties of skin cancer.
They are also considered high risk for developing melanoma. However, when the participants were given 500mg doses of nicotinamide, a derivative of niacin/vitamin B3, twice a day for a year, there was a 23% reduction in new skin cancer cases compared to the group taking placebos.
The study was praised by Delphine Lee, M.D, Ph.D. Lee wasn’t involved in the study but – as the director of translational immunology with the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA, and a dermatologist – she is definitely an authority on the subject.
She praised the simplicity of the solution offered by the study, suggesting it could change how doctors look to prevent skin cancer in high-risk patients. She also commented that the study appears to back up the results from other studies that have suggested vitamin B3 could be an important tool in the fight against cancer.
The researchers haven’t come up with a hypothesis on the vitamin works, but Lee says that it could likely have something to do with how nicotinamide is a precursor for ATP production in cells. ATP is what powers the cells and enables them to function properly.
UV radiation damages ATP production, preventing cells from working properly. Lee explains that this is when vitamin B3 becomes so important.
Nicotinamide enables cells to keep producing ATP, counteracting the effects of UV rays. The results are that cells are better able to repair DNA and prevent cells from mutating into cancer cells. Prevention is key when it comes to cancer, so anything that can help prevent it like this is a major deal.
Lee says that treatment with nicotinamide is perfectly safe for people who have a higher risk of suffering from skin cancer, such as people with a family or personal history of developing skin cancer, or any signs of other precancerous lesions. However, it’s not recommended for other people to take the daily dose of the vitamin.
Lee issued the warning that nicotinamide hasn’t yet been proven to help people without pre-existing skin cancer issues or melanomas. Even though nicotinamide is extremely safe (doses of up to three times that handed out in the study are used to treat autoimmune disorders), there are some risks to taking it.
One of the biggest risks is reducing blood pressure. Low blood pressure can be just as dangerous as high blood pressure in some cases.
As such, Lee explains that it is not a good idea to start taking the vitamin to prevent cancer if you aren’t already at a high risk of developing it. It will take further study to assess how it affects people who aren’t high risk before vitamin B3 could be considered a safe and effective way for everyone to prevent cancer.
Lee advises those who are at low-risk of developing skin cancer to just start by adopting some simple strategies for sun-protection. She says that many people don’t realize just how much of a carcinogen UV light is. She recommends wearing sunscreen daily, no matter your risk of skin cancer, as well as avoiding the sun and covering up as much as possible.
She also cautions awareness of situations that can increase how much UV light you are exposed to, such as being at a high altitude or being around snow and water. You’d be surprised how tanned you can get in a winter wonderland. So take precautions and leave as little skin exposed as possible.