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Can coffee ward off skin cancer?

March 2, 2009
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Can coffee ward off skin cancer?
Skin cancer affects more than a million people in the United States every year. The risk of developing skin cancer increases with exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation - a form of energy in sunlight that is generally beneficial for health but, at high levels, can damage cells. And with increasing recreational sun activities, tanning-bed use, and the loss of the ozone layer, the incidence of these skin cancers is expected to go up.

New research shows that one promising therapy could be the ingredient found in America's daily indulgence: caffeine.

In 2007, an epidemiological study uncovered an interesting link between consumption of coffee and rates of skin cancer: For every cup of caffeinated coffee consumed by Caucasian women, there was a 5 percent decrease in risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer, the kind in which unpigmented cells on the skin's surface turn cancerous and spread into nearby normal tissue.

Researchers based at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, including senior investigator Dr. Paul Nghiem, wanted to directly test whether caffeine could protect human skin cells from UV radiation. Researchers placed one group of cultured human skin cells in a caffeine bath and then exposed them to UV.

They found that cells damaged by UV were subsequently destroyed by caffeine - a protective effect because the damaged cells, if allowed to survive, could have become cancerous.

"The good news is that people who are drinking coffee can go on enjoying it knowing that there might be some protective effect," says Nghiem.

BOTTOM LINE: Caffeine helps to destroy cultured human skin cells damaged by UV, thereby preventing the development of potentially cancerous cells.

CAUTIONS: These experiments were done on cultured skin cells; the effect on human skin is not yet known.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, February 2009.

SUSHRUT JANGI

Iodine content not as label claims
Women who take iodine in prenatal multivitamins might not be getting as much of the important nutrient as they think.

Expectant or breast-feeding mothers need iodine because it affects thyroid function in fetuses and infants, which is crucial to normal neurocognitive development. Severe iodine deficiency leads to mental retardation, and even a mild iodine deficiency can harm cognitive development. Iodine has been added to table salt for years; it also can be found in seafood, dairy products, and bread.

But prenatal multivitamins that promise certain levels of iodine may not be delivering.

Dr. Angela M. Leung and her colleagues at Boston University Medical Center examined more than 200 over-the-counter or prescription prenatal multivitamins that listed iodine - usually 150 micrograms, derived largely from kelp or potassium iodide - on their labels. The researchers then measured the actual amount of iodine in 60 randomly selected brands.

The BU researchers discovered that the iodine came up short, sometimes less than half of what the label promised. The discrepancies were the greatest in vitamins containing iodine that came from kelp.

Iodine levels in prenatal multivitamins are not mandated by the government, but the American Thyroid Association recommends pregnant and breast-feeding women get 150 micrograms of supplemental iodine every day. Other groups say more is needed.

BOTTOM LINE: The amount of iodine in prenatal multivitamins varies widely. Women should look for potassium iodide on the label as the most reliable source of iodine.

CAUTIONS: Federal regulations do not address how much iodine should be in prenatal multivitamins.

WHERE TO FIND IT: New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 26

ELIZABETH COONEY

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