Aloe, coconut oil and calendula are common sunscreen ingredients, but none of them may be as beneficial as one simple ingredient currently missing: caffeine, the alkaloid stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate and many of the new energy drinks.
Researchers are finding a correlation between caffeine and skin cancer prevention. According to a study conducted by Allan Conney of Rutgers University in New Jersey, it is suggested that direct application of caffeine to the skin changes the activity of a gene involved in the destruction of cells that may become cancerous due to DNA damage. Although scientists see this as a way to prevent skin cancer, simply drinking a cup of the breakfast brew or munching on a Hershey bar will mostly likely not be beneficial in thwarting the disease.
The American Cancer Society reports that more than 2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are found in the U.S. each year. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will account for about 70,000 cases annually.
Overexposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun damage the DNA of skin cells, leading to errors when the cells divide, which ultimately can lead to cancer.
Although there have been previous studies on the role of caffeine in preventing cancer, Cooney wanted to find the specific molecular mechanisms behind it. He suggests that the response from caffeine may involve a gene called ATR which is suppressed when caffeine molecules come in contact. Suppression of the gene encourages death of DNA-damaged cells.
Cooney’s idea was tested by creating genetically modified mice who had deficient ATR genes and exposing them to ultraviolet light until they developed skin cancer. Sixty-nine percent of the mice developed fewer tumors after 19 weeks of UV exposure as opposed to those that had fully functioning ATR genes. Tumors in the GM mice developed three weeks later than their standard mice counterparts.
The results of the study were published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which revealed after 34 weeks of UV exposure all of the mice had developed tumors, mostly a type of non-melanoma cancer. “All of this suggests the possibility that caffeine, possibly [applied to the skin], would have an inhibitory effect on sunlight-induced skin cancer," said Conney. "In addition to the effects on the ATR pathway, caffeine also has sun-screening properties."