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Caffeine Could Be The New Sunscreen


You can get your coffee with or without caffeine, and someday soon you may also have an opportunity to buy your sunscreen with the same options. A new study from Rutgers University reports that caffeine appears to protect against certain skin cancers by inhibiting an enzyme called ATR, which could make the kick in your coffee a candidate for sunscreen.

The world needs a better sunscreen

Drinking caffeinated beverages has been associated with a significant decrease in skin and other types of cancer, but the reason for this benefit is not known.

In previous research, mice were given caffeinated water and then exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVB rays are the main cause of skin reddening and sunburn, and they play a major role in the development of skin cancer as well as aging of the skin.

In that study, the mice fed the caffeinated water were able to destroy a higher percentage of their seriously damaged cells and reduce the risk of them developing into cancerous cells compared with mice not given caffeine.

Now in a new study, researchers genetically reduced ATR levels in a group of mice and observed that they developed tumors more slowly than mice without genetically modified ATR. Overall, the genetically modified mice had 69 percent fewer tumors than regular mice and four times fewer invasive tumors.

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In addition, when the researchers applied caffeine to the skin of the regular mice, they developed 72 percent fewer squamous cell carcinomas, which is a form of skin cancer. When the regular and genetically modified mice were exposed to UV rays, skin tumors developed in both groups of mice.

The key, therefore, appears to be ATR, and caffeine can inhibit the enzyme. According to investigator Allan Conney, director of the Susan Lehman Cullman Laboratory for Cancer Research, their findings seem to suggest that inhibiting the ATR enzyme is most effective before UV-induced skin cancers are fully developed.

“Caffeine might become a weapon in prevention [of skin cancer] because it inhibits ATR and also acts as a sunscreen and directly absorbs damaging UV light,” according to Conney.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved 17 different active ingredients for use in sunscreens, including aminobenzoic acid (PABA), avobenzone, and ecamsule, among others, which help protect against UVA and/or UVB rays. Could caffeine be added to the list in the near future? Only time, and more research, will tell.

Rutgers University
Skin Cancer Foundation

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons