Sunshine and citrus make for a melanoma cocktail

Nature can sure throw some curve balls. Take the sun for example. The sun is a fickle source of better health. Get just enough to help your skin make vitamin D, and you can reap huge benefits. Burn and you increase your skin cancer risk.

Now consider how you’ve been told all your life to make fruit part of a well-balanced healthy diet. Enter curve ball number two: Just be sure to avoid eating specific kinds of fruit on days you plan to get a lot of sun.

That’s because citrus fruit, like oranges and grapefruit, contain chemicals called furocoumarins that could increase your risk for melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

Research, that took place at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, analyzed the fruit-eating habits of 100,000 Americans and revealed that those who consumed the most oranges and grapefruits — and their juices — had a 36 percent higher chance of melanoma compared to folks who never indulged.

These fruits, and their juices, were not linked to any other types of cancer. Apparently — and other studies have shown this — citrus furocoumarins make the skin more sensitive to the UV radiation contained in sunlight. And of the citrus fruits, grapefruit showed the highest association with melanoma risk.

Additionally, if you were frequently out in the sun as a child and suffered sunburns, your risk from citrus fruit seems to be higher than it is for people who spent more of their childhood indoors.

Citrus fruits provide valuable vitamin C and other important nutrients, so by no means should you consider dropping them from your table. It may be wise, however, based on the information from this study, to only choose to avoid them when you plan to spend a lot of time in the sun — perhaps during a beach vacation, a day at the park or when outside doing yard work.

There are other foods and drinks you can consume that may lower your skin cancer risk. Consider having these in place of your morning orange juice or grapefruit before a day in the sun:

  • Coffee: According to a study at the National Cancer Institute, coffee contains natural chemicals that can lower your skin cancer risk by about 20 percent if you drink up to four cups a day.
  • Green tea: Lab tests in Scotland have found that a compound in green tea called epigallocatechin gallate can make skin tumors vanish.
  • Blueberries, apples, pears and other fruits aside from citrus fruit: A study in Connecticut shows that eating fruit may help your body fight skin cancer.

Remember, moderation is a good rule to live by, and that advice seems especially applicable to sunshine and citrus fruit.


Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.