Summer may seem like the best season for your skin. But under that well-tanned surface, the sun is actually wreaking havoc on your cells.
“When you leave lettuce in the sun too long, it wilts and turns brown because the light is causing oxidative damage. This is similar to your skin exposed to sunlight,” says Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., who researches antioxidants at Tufts University. On your skin, the damage manifests in the short term as a red-hot sunburn, but long-term, it can cause cancer.
And while sunscreen helps prevent the light from penetrating, what comes to the rescue once free radicals have taken over? The hero has to come from your plate in the form of antioxidants—like vitamin C, E and beta-carotene—which block free radicals from causing more damage. “Antioxidants float through your blood and amass in tissues, including the skin,” she says. This means when the sun damages your cells, antioxidants are already on the front line to battle damage.
Plus phytochemicals—a nutrient group that includes antioxidants—may ramp up your body’s natural protection systems against cancer-causing damage, adds Karen Collins, registered dietitian, Nutrition Advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research. In fact, a 2010 study from Tel Aviv University found that participants who follow diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, like that in the Mediterranean region where melanoma rates are extremely low, have lower incidences of skin cancer.
One of the best foods for protection? Tomatoes. A new British study found that people who ate ¼ cup of tomato paste—which offers high levels of the nutrient lycopene—for two weeks saw less oxidative damage. And a 2012 UK study found women who eat a tomato-heavy diet have 33 percent more protection against UV exposure than those who skip the fruit.
But since nutrients all have different functions and interactions, it’s important to eat all colors of the rainbow. “Many phytochemicals manifest as pigments, so eating fruits and vegetables of all colors guarantees that you’re diversifying your nutrient intake and better fortifying your skin,” says Johnson.
The best skin protectors include dark leafy greens, beta-carotene-rich carrots and cantaloupe, and polyphenol-packed berries and citrus fruit. And skip supplements in favor of whole foods. Most phytochemicals are bioactive, meaning they’re most effective coming from whole foods, and the high doses of most supplements can be harmful to your health.
Protection doesn’t occur overnight, Collins adds. In fact, most studies supporting nutrition’s benefit on sunburns or cancer prevention don’t see results until participants have been eating the food for at least 8 weeks, she adds.
Most importantly, there is no better protection against developing skin cancer than limiting your exposure to UV light, Collins adds. And, while a nutrient-rich diet can help fortify your cells, slathering on sunscreen as well will give your skin the best chances to stay healthy.
Jen Selter has mastered the art of the vanity squat. On her Instagram account, the 20 year old frequently posts pictures of herself assuming the position—in the gym, on a yacht, on the steps of a plane—emblazoned with her handle “@jenselter.” Her habit of fitness motivation has paid off. As one of the social network’s homegrown celebrities, she has amassed 3.5 million followers, a fitness agent, and a photo shoot in Vanity Fair.
Personal accountability has long been a well-recognized tool to help maintain a fitness regime or exercise plan. But in the age of the selfie, this time-tested method of personal accountability has turned glaringly public. A search of “#fitness” on Instagram yields nearly 39 million posts. In addition to Selter, there’s a whole cottage industry of Instagram fitness celebrities, “Fitblrs” on Tumblr, and a bevy of fitness tracking apps like Runkeeper and Strava that automatically upload your 10K time to your Facebook or track your cycling route in Twitter.
We already know that keeping track of workouts the old fashioned way (a notebook and pen comes to mind) has beneficial effects when it comes to sticking to our goals. But posting the details of each and every run, squat, gluten free lunch, or Crossfit W.O.D. can feel a little egregious to those following along. One has to wonder: do all these fitness-themed posts amount to anything more more than an exercise in self-righteous ego boosting?
Research suggests they do. The Telemedicine Journal and e-Health found that fitness regimes with a social component are more likely to succeed as they “foster motivation, encouragement, and commonality.”
Tiffany Clifford Czajka is a Scottsdale, Arizona, based trainer who says she uses social media as a way to motivate her clients and encourages them to do the same. In her experience as a trainer, she’s found that frequent visual cues of progress really do help people commit to their goals.
“I often post pictures of equipment—bosu balls, combat ropes—for a sneak peak into the next day’s workout. It helps keep excitement going and I take pictures of [my clients] working out as well to post and tag,” Czajka said. “Pictures speak volumes, so whether you post a picture of an amazing before and after or the defined toned biceps that you have worked so hard for, it shows dedication and self-confidence that maybe you once did have.”
For those going after a longterm goal or challenge, using social media to document it also has the effect of inspiring others. Writer Anna Brones and policy Analyst Megan Ponder started their project ‘Portland to Paris: 1000 Miles’ in January. Each of them have committed to running 1000 miles in the year 2014, despite the fact that they live on different continents.
Ponder, who is based in Portland, keeps an Instagram of the project while Brones, who lives in Paris, blogs monthly recaps. The duo feels that the positive feedback they’ve received from social media is a good sign that they’re adding value of some sort, rather than just over-sharing.
“Every month that I post on my own blog, I get comments from regular readers that I know are following—and they are not people I know in real life,” Brones said. “We had someone on Instagram say recently that she loved the feed and found it really inspiring. That's all I have ever wanted from sharing—to get other people to get after it in their own ways.”
As with any goal, there are bound to be setbacks, such as a month where a knee injury put Brones below her mileage target. But the pair aren’t worried about failing publicly; they say the project is much more about the conversation they’re creating with each other and their followers.
“Ultimately, I think that sharing our journey can be inspirational to others whether or not we achieve the goal,” Brones said. “This is much more about the process itself.”
There are grown men who drink breast milk. For some, it’s undoubtedly a kink. But for others, it’s something else: a “God-given” performance-enhancing elixir—and believers are paying top dollar for it online. Once a fringe gym-rat movement, now athletes of various stripes are chugging the stuff in search of a high-energy protein fix.
Far away from government oversight or official scrutiny, hundreds of gallons of breast milk flow through online classifieds, according to one of the leading online facilitators, OnlytheBreast.com. The site officially caters to mothers who want to sell their “liquid gold” (their language, not ours) to other women, but about a third of the requests for milk on the site are posted by men. The demand has set off an arms race among the 10 percent of women willing to sell their milk to the other sex. One St. Louis provider catering to athletes boasts that her milk is best because she adheres to a “Paleo-style diet with added grass-fed butter,” only organic foods, and a daily regimen of supplements including charcoal and probiotics.
The “breast is best” believers drink this stuff up. They say that the milk is more nutritious than anything you can get from a cow, best for body building, the secret to fighting off disease, and a sure-fire way to boost energy levels. It’s the energy drink of the future, New York Magazine reports.
It’s too bad it’s soggy logic—on all counts, says Bo Lonnerdal, a professor of nutrition and internal medicine at University of California at Davis. “I don’t see much sense in it all,” she says. “It doesn’t provide more energy than other drinks with the same energy content.”
Which brings us to protein. Fans of human breast milk point to its supposedly superior whey-to-casein ratio of 60-to-40, compared to nearly the inverse 20-to-80 of cow’s milk. But a liter of breast milk has only one-third the total protein of cow’s milk. And it contains nearly twice as much lactose sugar, making it sweeter than cow’s milk and a poor choice for those who are lactose intolerant. Then there’s breast milk’s fat content, which varies widely based on the donor’s diet.
More souring is that the heralded bioactive components within breast milk are unlikely to make it through your stomach—precisely because adult men aren’t at all like children. “We highly likely would break down bioactive components like lactoferrin and immunoglobulins long before they could have any potential function,” Lonnerdal says.
It’s just wrongheaded to think that what works for baby boys and girls will be best for grown men, says Katie Hinde, assistant professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, who tracks advances in milk research on her “Mammals suck… Milk” blog.
“Breast milk is nature’s magical elixir for those particular infants at a particular time, but the benefits for adults are less clear. There’s still too little we know about what it does even in infants,” she says.
Then why all the fanfare? Adherents are committing a naturalistic fallacy, says Sarah Tishkoff, a professor of genetics and biology at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the evolution of lactose tolerance. They believe that people evolved to drink breast milk, not cow’s milk. They’re wrong. “No humans have evolved to drink breast milk after weaning,” Tishkoff says. Most human populations whose ancestors practiced dairy farming have actually adapted to drinking cow’s milk.
But would it really hurt to give breast milk a try? That’s not a good idea, particularly if it is purchased online versus milked from a willing wife or girlfriend. “The biggest issue is that breast milk can contain live viruses and bacteria,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Sharon Donovan, former president of the American Society for Nutrition and a professor at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
When moms donate to a hospital milk bank, they are screened before being approved, Donovan explains. But men buying from strangers could result in transmission of diseases including HIV, syphilis, or hepatitis. Most milk bought online also comes contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, as Dr. Sheela Gerahrty’s lab at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center reported last year. Granted, OnlyTheBreast.com has explicit instructions about home pasteurization.
Plus, there’s the issue of cost—at $2.50 to $4.00 per ounce, a gallon of breast milk is priced at $320 to $512, versus just $4 a gallon of cow’s milk, Donovan says. And what really sucks? There’s a chance you might not even get what you’re paying for. Because it’s sold by volume without any oversight, the milk could be cut with water or cow’s milk, Hinde warns. These aren’t problems you find with hospital milk bank donations where no monetary gain is involved.
Getting beyond the ick factor, athletes commanding high prices for breast milk could inadvertently encourage disadvantaged women to sell their milk instead of feeding their own infants. It may also discourage women from donating to milk banks, which are crucial for supporting the needs of premature infants.
The “invisible breasts of the free market” selling their products online comes with lots of questions, Hinde says.
If you’re still convinced that breast milk is best, take heart: cows may soon be genetically modified to produce human milk, The Telegraph reports.