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updated 8/9/2007 8:17:51 AM ET 2007-08-09T12:17:51

With more than a million cases of skin cancer reported each year, the search is intense to find the tools that fight this disease. Using sunscreen and being cautious of when the sun is at its strongest are the two most common caveats.

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Now, researchers at Rutgers University say that drinking caffeine and exercising create a one-two punch against the disease, as reported in the July 31st issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The combination, they said, increases the positive destruction of precancerous cells (apoptosis) damaged by the sun's dangerous ultraviolet-B radiation. For example, when skin cells are overly exposed to the sun's rays, the DNA is damaged. That starts a process in which the DNA is self programmed (apoptosis) to destruct, although not all the cells do. Some become cancerous.

So far, tests have only been conducted on hairless mice but the protective effect was greater than the sum of the two, said Dr. Allan H. Conney of Rutgers. The mice were fed water with caffeine and had wheels to run upon. Some mice had both and a control group had neither. Those drinking caffeine had a 95% increase in apoptosis or destruction of damaged cells. In the laboratory tests, the mice that only exercised on the wheel showed a 120% increase, and the mice that had access to both the caffeine-laced water and running wheels showed nearly a 400% increase.

Dr. Conney attributes the dramatic increase to "some kind of synergy." He also noted that the mice drinking caffeine were more active than those who didn’t drink it and actually seem to enjoy the activity.

We need to dig deeper, he added, to determine how this combination influences on the cellular and molecular levels. When the underlying mechanisms are identified, the researchers hope to engage humans in trials. "With the stronger levels of UVB radiation evident today and an upward trend in the incidence of skin cancer among Americans, there is a premium on finding novel ways to protect our bodies from sun damage," he added. So, while you're sipping your latte and heading out to jog, don't forget the sunscreen and opt for early morning or early evening instead of exercising during the heat of the day.

For more coffee facts and coffee recipes, sign up for Phil’s free e-newsletter: www.coffeechatnews.com


Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to phil.lempert@nbc.com or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at SuperMarketGuru.com.

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