Natural Food Additive May Prevent Skin Cancer

Researchers identify food additive that prevents skin cancer in mice


Researchers are one step closer to preventing skin cancer in humans.

A compound in a natural food additive known as annatto was found to prevent skin cancer cells from forming in mice exposed to UV radiation in a recent study conducted at the University of Arizona, according to United Press International (UPI).

Bixin is a red-orange compound found in annatto, a natural condiment and food coloring found in the seeds of the achitoe tree, according to UPI. Annatto is commonly used in Latin American dishes.In the recent study, mice injected with bixin and un-injected mice were both exposed to UV radiation. The mice injected with bixin experienced much less severe skin damage.

Georg Wondrak, Ph.D., associate professor and member of the Univeristy of Arizona Cancer Center, said this discovery is unique because bixin is a nutritional factor, not a sunscreen applied to the skin, according to UPI.

In other words, bixin prevents UV skin damage from the inside out by causing cells to produce protective antioxidants and repair factors. It does not kill the skin cancer cells, but instead prevents their formation from taking place.

Bixin would not be the first ingestible thought to prevent cancer. According to UPI, researchers at Ohio State University found that the compound gadusol, produced and secreted by birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, also has properties that protect from UV rays.

Furthermore, researchers at the University of Michigan found that the preservative nisin, which grows naturally on dairy products, killed cancer cells and anti-biotic resistant bacteria in mice, according to UPI.

The next steps for this line of research includes finding out whether bixin prevents UV skin damage in humans as it does in mice. Since anatto is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a safe food additive, its use in future clinical trials is expected to require fewer rounds of testing.

Dr. Wondrak and Donna Zhang, Ph.D., professor and member of the University of Arizona Cancer Center, published their findings in Free Radical Biology and Medicine"System Administration of the Apocarotenoid Bixin Protects Skin against Solar UV-Induced Damage through Activation of Nrf2."

Research reported was supported in part by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The researchers of the study reported no conflicts of interest at this time.