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Caffeine and Exercise: An Unlikely Pair Helps Fight Skin Cancer

Caffeine and Exercise: An Unlikely Pair Helps Fight Skin Cancer

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Most people think of caffeine as a mild, somewhat addictive drug that can help you make it to lunch but also stunt your kids’ growth. The chemical’s status as a necessary semi-evil may become a thing of the past, though, if the results of a recent study on mice turn out to apply in humans as well. If they do, drinking coffee may become a new tool for stopping skin cancer before it starts.

Using hairless mice whose skin is very sensitive to ultraviolet light, Dr. Allen H. Conney and a team of researchers studied the effects of caffeine and exercise on potentially cancerous cells. Some mice consumed caffeine, others exercised, a third group did both, and another one did neither, thus serving as the control group. The mice on caffeine consumed it in quantities equivalent to a couple cups of coffee for a human, and the exercising mice ran on exercise wheels for what would translate to about two-and-a-half miles. The mice were then exposed to cancer-causing UVB light.

The key thing that researchers looked for was the death of cells, which is actually a good thing for combating cancer. When ultraviolet light damages cell DNA, the affected cells may start to reproduce excessively and become cancerous. This process is opposed by the cells’ programming, which destroys them when their DNA becomes too damaged. The more of them that are destroyed in this way, the less likely skin cancer is to result.

The results of the study were fairly dramatic: the death of damaged cells occurred at a 96 percent increased rate in the caffeine-consuming mice and at a 120 percent faster rate in the exercising mice. Better yet, those who drank caffeine and exercised saw damaged cells die 400 percent faster than normal.

Though the researchers don’t know exactly how the chemical reactions led to this result, they suspect that positive synergy between the caffeine and the exercise helped produce the great success of the two in combination. And while this study is a very promising first step, they can’t be sure that the same effect will be observed in humans until they try the experiment on them. Even if it does turn out to work for us, coffee and caffeine pills will be at best a complement to sunscreen in the battle against skin cancer. For now, keep lathering up before you hit the beach, though having an extra cup in the morning probably won’t hurt.

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