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Diets rich in vitamin A tied to lower skin cancer risk

A variety of colorful, nutrient-rich vegetables are displayed on a wooden table.

Aug. 30, 2019—Could something as simple as getting more vitamin A reduce your risk of skin cancer? A new study published in JAMA Dermatology suggests the answer is yes.

It found that high levels of vitamin A, especially from produce, protects against squamous cell skin cancer—the second most common form of skin cancer.

Every year, 15,000 people in the U.S. die from squamous cell skin cancer. It's most likely to occur in fair-skinned people and parts of the body exposed to the sun.

Produce is key

The study looked at the diets and cancer rates of roughly 123,000 American adults who were followed for over 26 years.

Participants with the highest intakes of vitamin A were 17% less likely to get squamous cell skin cancer than those with the lowest intakes. Most of the vitamin A came from food—particularly produce, not animal-based foods or supplements.

Produce rich in vitamin A includes orange, yellow and leafy green veggies, such as:

  • Carrots.
  • Sweet potatoes.
  • Squash.
  • Broccoli.

Fruits like mango, cantaloupe and apricots are also good vitamin A sources.

The study found that, on average, adults with the highest vitamin A intakes ate the equivalent of one medium sweet potato or two large carrots a day. Those with the lowest intakes ate the equivalent of one-third cup of sweet potato fries or one small carrot daily.

But even this lower intake is above the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin A.

Skip the supplements

The researchers warn that too much vitamin A—especially from supplements and animal sources—can be harmful. High intakes can cause nausea, harm the liver and raise the risk of hip fractures and even birth defects. But the side effects from high levels of plant-based vitamin A are minimal.

The study's findings are one more reason to eat plenty of fruits and veggies, the researchers emphasize. But the best way to reduce your risk of skin cancer is still to limit your sun exposure to the sun and apply sunscreen before you head outside.

Check out our Vitamins health topic center for more information on vitamins.

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