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Study Shows How Caffeine May Help Prevent Skin Cancer

Posted: March 2, 2009

A new study synthesizing information from past research shows why recommending a little caffeine to clients might be wise in trying to ward off skin cancer, and new research is being conducted on the effects of applying caffeine directly to the skin.

Past studies have suggested that caffeine might offer some protection from skin cancer, and new research may explain why. "We have found what we believe to be the mechanism by which caffeine is associated with decreased skin cancer," said lead researcher Paul Nghiem, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

For the study, Nghiem's team looked at caffeine's effect on human skin cells that had been exposed to ultraviolet radiation in a laboratory. They found that in cells damaged by UV rays, caffeine interrupted a protein called ATR-Chk1, causing the damaged cells to self-destruct. "Caffeine has no effect on undamaged cells," Nghiem said.

ATR is essential to damaged cells that are growing rapidly, Nghiem said, and caffeine specifically targets damaged cells that can become cancerous. "Caffeine more than doubles the number of damaged cells that will die normally after a given dose of UV," he said. "This is a biological mechanism that explains what we have been seeing for many years from the oral intake of caffeine."

The findings were published online Feb. 26 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.