Fruit: The New Defense Against Skin Cancer?

Leave the Coppertone at home. Your best defense against skin cancer brought on by sun exposure may be grapes and black raspberries, according to two separate studies released by university researchers.

The studies, one conducted at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and the other, conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, purport that grape seed and black raspberry extracts may prevent skin cancer.

Grape Seed Extract, the New Anti-Skin Cancer Supplement

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham said a chemical found in grape seed, when ingested, may have skin cancer-fighting properties.

Specifically, the study showed that hairless mice, exposed to ultraviolet light and fed a standard diet supplemented with a grape seed proanthocyanidins (GSPs), had 65 percent fewer skin cancer tumors than a control group of mice that were not fed the supplement.

"More than 1 million new cases of skin cancers are diagnosed every year in U.S.," the study's lead researcher, Dr. Santosh Katiyar told "So there is an urgent need to find a treatment or chemo-preventive approaches for this disease."

The tumors that appeared on the GSP-supplemented mice were also up to 78 percent smaller than those found on the control mice.

Katiyar said it's difficult to pinpoint how much GSP humans would need to consume to ward off skin cancer. And, although the chemical is currently commercially available, Katiyar said he's not confident as to how pure and "useful" the supplements are.

"People should not use commercial products blindly," he said. "The experimental results at this stage are limited to animal models, and further studies are required to firmly establish their medicinal value in terms of their anti-carcinogenic activity."

In the meantime, there are always grapes and wine.

"Grapes, and grape products have antioxidants in (them)," Katiyar added. "Therefore they are useful or better for human health. We are confident to suggest that regular eating or consumption of grapes, grape juice or red wine is useful and may help to ward off skin cancer."

Black Raspberry Extract for Sunburn Relief

Researchers at Ohio State's College of Medicine said a topical compound of black raspberry extract suspended in K-Y Jelly relieved sunburn and slowed the growth of squamous cell carcinomas on the skin of mice exposed to ultraviolet B radiation.

UVB rays burn the skin and are believed to cause the majority of non-melanoma skin cancers in the United States.

Anne VanBuskirk, an assistant professor of surgery at OSU and senior author of the study, said about 250,000 new cases of squamous cell cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. People who have had organ transplants are at an elevated risk of contracting this type of skin cancer, she said.

For the study, mice were exposed to UVB radiation three times a week for 25 weeks. One group was treated with a gel containing freeze-dried black raspberry powder. The other was treated with a gel that did not contain the berry powder.

"In terms of shutting down the inflammatory response, we've never seen anything like it," VanBuskirk said. "We saw a 50 percent drop in the number of tumors on the mice treated with the black raspberry extract, and the tumors were smaller and didn’t progress as quickly as the ones on the control group."

VanBuskirk said more research is needed and it will likely be years before a topical solution is available to consumers. Although consumers could try to make their own berry powder or try purchasing it commercially, VanBuskirk didn't recommend it.

"I think it would more than likely turn your skin purple," she said. "We have a grant from the National Institute of Health to look at the mechanism of how the extract works. And, what I'm hoping, is that in a few years we'll have something that can be sold commercially to help those who are at very high risk for this type of skin cancer."