You’ve probably read much on Easy Health Options about the quandary that sunscreen poses. It’s supposed to protect you from skin cancer but at the same time exposes you to toxins and blocks the sun’s rays that help your body produce valuable vitamin D.
Perhaps the most problematic ingredients in sunscreen are substances called benzophenones also known as oxybenzones. These chemicals block out ultraviolet light but may also produce problematic physiological changes in your body.
According to the researchers, when you use sunscreens that contain benzophenones or related chemicals, you absorb some of it through your skin and it can enter your bloodstream. And their analysis confirmed that women with higher levels of these chemicals are more likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis.
Overzealous use of sunscreen can also leave you lacking much-needed vitamin D which may be an ever bigger issue. Lack of vitamin D is now linked to many cancers, and leaves you more vulnerable to viral infections as well. That’s because vitamin D is not just a vitamin, it’s also a bone-building hormone, and the main activator of your immune system.
Still, too much sun is dangerous.
How can you manage a healthy balance?
For starters — limit your time in the sun to about 20 minutes a pop. And look for natural foods and supplements that can protect you from harmful rays, like seeds of the achiote.
Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy have discovered that a compound — bixin — found in the seeds of the achiote (a type of shrub), more commonly known as annatto, prevents the formation of skin cancer cells and skin damage from UV radiation in mice. 1
Dr. Georg Wondrak, PhD, associate professor at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, says this discovery is unique because bixin is a nutritional factor, not a sunscreen applied to the skin. It prevents UV skin damage from the inside out by inducing cells to make protective antioxidants and repair factors. The compound does not kill skin cancer cells, but prevents their forming in the first place.
It’s possible that bixin may be used to create “sunscreen” supplements in the future. But until then you may benefit by incorporating annatto into your diet, the same way Latino cultures have for quite a long time. In fact, Aztec Indians used annatto seeds to intensify the color of their chocolate drinks.
Annatto is used in some foods, like chorizo, butter and margarine, cheese and smoked fish to add a yellow color. In the Spanish speaking Caribbean islands it’s used to make yellow rice and sofrito.
Add annatto to your diet
There are many ways you can incorporate the annatto seeds into your food, and begin benefitting from its inside-out sun-protective properties. Aboutfood.com recommends the following culinary uses:
- Annatto is sold several ways: as seeds, ground, as a paste, or infused in cooking oil or lard. Look for it the spice isle or ethnic food aisle of your grocer. Packing includes bottles, bags, or vacuum-sealed bricks.
- Ground or powdered achiote is often mixed with other herbs, spices, and even cornstarch. Read the label if you have food allergies.
- Buy brightly colored red-orange seeds. Do not buy dull or brown seeds as they are past their prime. They are too old and have lost their flavor.
- Both seeds and ground annatto will keep a long time, up to 3 years, under proper storage. Keep in an airtight glass container and store in a dark cabinet away from light. Achiote oil or achiotina will keep a few months stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator.