Dr John Briffa: Going for bronze

For something so natural, sunlight seems to get some pretty bad press. This time of year is usually accompanied by a rash of articles and news stories warning us of the perils of the sun's rays, and drawing our attention to the dangers of sunburn and its link with skin cancer. Yet for all this advice to stay out of the sun, it appears we are reluctant to take heed: there seems to be no shortage of people keen to dose up with solar energy, and a recent poll found that three-quarters of us prefer the bronzed look over a more pallid appearance any day.

For diehard tan-seekers, it makes sense to do what we can to protect ourselves from the ravages of the sun. Slathering ourselves with sunscreen and seeking solace in the shade when the sun is at its hottest are sensible tactics, but they are only half the story. Odd though it may seem, science suggests that our ability to tan safely is, to a degree, dependent on what we eat: there is good evidence that upping our intake of specific nutrients can help us in our quest to acquire a healthy golden tan.

The undesirable effects of sunlight on the skin are believed to be triggered by the production of damaging, destructive biochemical entities known as free radicals. The fires that free radicals start in the body are extinguished by substances called antioxidants, many of which are available in food. Stoking up on antioxidants has the potential to reduce the risk of sunburn, and is believed to help combat longer-term problems, such as ageing changes and skin cancer, too.

One antioxidant that is believed to play a particular role in skin protection is betacarotene. Carrots, spinach, apricots, cantaloupe melons and mangoes are all rich in this. However, additional supplementation with betacarotene may prove a convenient and economical way of getting maximum protection from this nutrient. My advice would be to take 30mg each day during the summer. Other antioxidant nutrients worth dosing up on include vitamins C and E. In one study, 2,000g of vitamin C and 1,000IU of vitamin E taken each day appeared to protect the skin from sunburn.

Other nutrients can help the skin by assisting in the production of melanin - the pigment that darkens the skin during tanning and acts as a natural sunscreen. Melanin is made from an amino acid known as L-tyrosine, and taking 1,000-1,500mg of this each day as a supplement can help the body tan quite naturally. The conversion of L-tyrosine into melanin is helped by certain nutrients, notably vitamin C, vitamin B6 and copper. In my experience, taking 2,000mg of vitamin C, 50mg of vitamin B6 and 4mg of copper each day does seem to speed tanning while at the same time reducing the risk of sunburn.

Nutrition news

Fruit and vegetables are often lauded for their ability to help keep circulatory diseases such as heart disease and stroke at bay. Indeed, such foods contain a range of nutrients that may help maintain a healthy circulation, including vitamin C, folic acid and potassium. But do the theoretical benefits of eating fruit and veg translate into real benefits? In a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , more than 9,000 people were interviewed about their dietary habits, and then watched for an average of 19 years. Individuals who claimed to eat at least three servings of fruit and/or veg a day at the start of the study were found to be 42 per cent less likely to die from stroke compared to those consuming no more than one serving a day. Risk of dying from heart disease was down by 24 per cent, too.

Dear John

I am 64 and suffer from angina, for which I take medication. I am still prone to attacks. I eat a healthy low-fat diet and take moderate exercise. Do you have any advice for me?
Peter Ravenscroft, Salisbury

Angina is a term used to describe the pain that can be felt when the heart muscle is starved of oxygen. It is usually caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries - the vessels that supply blood to the heart tissue - which may be the result of atherosclerosis (clogging due to fatty deposits) and/or spasm in the artery wall.

One of the most important nutrients for controlling angina is magnesium. This helps slow atherosclerosis, and may also reduce the risk of spasm in the coronary arteries by relaxing the muscle in the wall of these vessels. Take 500-750mg of magnesium per day.

Another natural substance, L-carnitine, helps in the transfer of fuel into miniature powerhouses in the heart cells, improving heart-muscle function. A study showed significant benefit in angina sufferers who took 1g of L-carnitine twice a day. Finally, the vitamin-like substance Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) helps generate energy in the heart-muscle cells. Take 100-150mg of CoQ10 per day.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.