How to Counteract the Effects of Alcohol

More than a million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year, affecting about one in three Americans in their lifetimes. As I discuss in my video Preventing Skin Cancer from the Inside Out, although the chief risk factor is UV exposure from the sun, alcohol consumption may also play a role. Most of the cancers associated with alcohol use are in the digestive tract, from mouth cancer, throat cancer, and stomach cancer down to cancers of the liver and colon. These involve tissues with which alcohol comes in more direct contact. But why skin cancer?

A study of 300,000 Americans found that excessive drinking was associated with higher rates of sunburn. It “may be that heavy and binge drinking are markers for an underlying willingness to disregard health risks” and pass out on the beach, but it also may be because breakdown products of alcohol in the body generate such massive numbers of free radicals that they eat up the antioxidants that protect our skin from the sun. Plants produce “their own built-in protection against the oxidative damage of the sun,” and we can expropriate these built-in protectors by eating those plants to function as cell protectors within our own bodies. One might say fruit and vegetables provide the best polypharmacy—the best drug store—against the development of cancer.

The ingestion of plant foods increases the antioxidant potential of our bloodstream, which can then be deposited in our tissues to protect us against the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, but only recently was it put to the test.

Researchers studied 20 women and burned their buttock skin with a UV lamp before and after half of them ate three tablespoons of tomato paste a day for three months. There was significantly less DNA damage in the derrieres of those who had been eating the tomatoes. So, three months or even just ten weeks before swimsuit season, if we eat lots of an antioxidant-rich food, such as tomato sauce, we may reduce the redness of a sunburn by 40 percent. It’s like we have built-in sunscreen in our skin. Now, this isn’t as good as a high SPF sunblock, but “[m]uch of the UV exposure over a life time occurs when the skin is not protected; thus, the use of dietary factors with sun-protecting properties might have a substantial beneficial effect.”

It works both ways, though. Alcohol consumption decreases the protection within our skin. If you have people drink about three shots of vodka, within eight minutes—not after ten weeks, but within just eight minutes––the level of carotenoid antioxidants in their skin drops dramatically. If, however, you drink the same amount of vodka in orange juice, there is still a drop in skin antioxidants compared with the initial value, but drinking a screwdriver cocktail is not as bad as drinking vodka neat. Is the difference enough to make a difference out in the sun, though?

After the drinks, researchers exposed volunteers to a UV lamp and waited to see how long it would take them to burn, and the time span until they started turning red was significantly shorter after alcohol consumption than in the experiments in which either no alcohol was consumed or alcohol was consumed in combination with orange juice. It came out to be about an extra half hour out in the sun based solely on what you put in your mouth before heading to the beach. And, oranges are pretty wimpy––not as bad as bananas, but berries have the highest cellular antioxidant activity.

The researchers concluded that “[p]eople should be aware of the fact that the consumption of alcohol in combination with UV light [from sun exposure or a tanning booth] increases their risk of sunburn and therefore their risk of developing premature skin aging and even skin cancer.” If you are going to drink alcohol and be out in the sun, you should make sure you are using sunblock or, at the very least, drinking a strawberry daiquiri or something else to reduce oxidative damage.

Isn’t that wild? Antioxidant dynamics in the body change minute to minute so be sure to keep yourself topped off. See:

What else can tomatoes do? Check out Inhibiting Platelet Activation with Tomato Seeds.

Other videos on skin health include:

Alcohol doesn’t just raise the risk of skin cancer. See Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much Is Safe?. But, like the orange juice in a screwdriver cocktail, grape skin components may help mediate wine’s adverse effects. See Breast Cancer Risk: Red Wine vs. White Wine.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Check out Our New Shirts (and Flash Sale!)

It’s always such a thrill to see folks rockin’ apparel. Anyone who comes to my talks wearing any of our stuff gets to cut straight to the front of the book-signing line! That may not sound like a big deal, but if you’ve been to one of my speaking events you know they can go for 4+ hours. I never leave until every book is signed, every picture is taken, every question answered. I’m mostly hunkered down this year writing, but I would never miss the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference (this September in San Diego) or the Lifestyle Medicine Conference (this October in Indianapolis). 

We’re proud to announce a new slew of t-shirt designs (thanks to Bryan Elliott, our Graphic Design Assistant). You’ll never forget the Daily Dozen checklist when you’re wearing it! We’re celebrating these new items with a flash sale. From today through July 31st, get our new merch for 15% off of the regular price. Check out all of the designs and colors here

Of course, all proceeds from the store go to keeping going and growing. 


Best Choices for Greens

Dark green leafy vegetables are hands down the single healthiest food on the planet. Mounting evidence suggests it’s possible to overdo a few types, though. If you’re eating regular boring amounts of greens (like a serving a day) then it doesn’t matter which kind you choose. But if you follow my Daily Dozen recommendation to ideally pack in cups a day, I urge you to choose low-oxalate greens, meaning basically any greens other than spinach, chard, and beet greens. All three of those greens are super healthy and I continue to relish all of them, but when I’m shooting for my personal pound-a-day green leafy quota, I now stick to mostly kale, collards, arugula, and bok choy (mustard greens and watercress are also A-OK in huge amounts). The concern with overdoing spinach, chard, and beet greens has to do with the risk of developing kidney stones. I already have videos about preventing and treating kidney stones with diet, but this is a new twist. I’m going to be doing a series of videos about this with all the juicy details, but just wanted to give everyone a heads up.


Welcome, Lauren!

Lauren Belyeu is the newest member of the team—she scored our new Digital Outreach Manager position. We’re so excited for her to bring her 8 years of experience in online promotion to bear in the evidence-based nutrition revolution. She also has an interest in nutrition research and is excited to be able to join these passions as part of the team. She is an outdoor, travel, and animal-lover who actually spent most of her life in Cape Town, South Africa, but has lived in South Korea and now lives in Northern Virginia with her fiancé. For our entire existence the millions of people we’ve reached has nearly all just been through word-of-mouth. But access to this life-and-death information is just too important to be left to chance, so we’re really excited to see what Lauren can do to help spread the good news about the tremendous power we have over our health destiny and longevity at the end of our forks.


How Not to Die in Medical School

When How Not to Die was published, UWS became the first medical school to use it as a textbook for their first-year medical students, thanks to the vision of Assistant Dean for Medical Education Dr. Louise Muscato. I’m told the program has been a big success and they’ve continued to teach How Not to Die in their classrooms. Times they are a-changin’!


Important Survey for Doctors*

Last chance: If you’re an MD or DO in private practice, pretty please click here and take a few minutes to complete the survey to help the game-changing American College of Lifestyle Medicine revolutionize the practice of medicine.

*Note the survey needs to be completed by July 29th.


Live Q&A Today

Every month now I do Q&As live from my treadmill, and today is the day.

  • Facebook Live: At 1:00 p.m. ET TODAY go to our Facebook page to watch live and ask questions.
  • YouTube Live Stream: At 2:00 p.m. ET TODAY go here to watch live and ask even more questions! 

You can now find links to all of my past live YouTube and Facebook Q&As right here on If that’s not enough, remember I have an audio podcast to keep you company at

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Reduce Acid-Forming Proteins to Protect Kidney Function

Chronic kidney disease is a major public health problem affecting about one in eight Americans, increasing the risks of disease and death even among those with only mild decreases in kidney function. Low-cost, low-risk preventive strategies that anyone can do are needed to address the epidemic of kidney disease. I discuss some of these in my video Protein Source: An Acid Test for Kidney Function.

Diet plays a role in kidney function decline. “Specifically, diets higher in animal protein, animal fat, and cholesterol” may be associated with protein leakage into the urine, which is a sign of kidney damage, and, generally, “diets higher in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but lower in meat and sweets, may be protective” against kidney function decline.

In comparison to the diet eaten by our ancient ancestors, not only are we eating more saturated fat, sugar, and salt, we now also eat an acid-producing diet, as opposed to a base-producing, or alkaline, diet. Ancestral human diets were largely plant based and, as such, produced more base than acid.

“Dietary acid load (DAL) is determined by the balance of acid-inducing foods which is rich in animal proteins (such as meats, eggs, and cheese)” and offset by base-inducing foods, such as fruits and vegetables. In a national survey of 12,000 American adults, DAL was associated with kidney damage among U.S. adults.

Acid-inducing diets are believed to affect the kidney through tubular toxicity, damage to the tiny, delicate, urine-making tubes in the kidney via increased ammonia production. Ammonia is a base, so the kidney creates it to buffer the acid from the food we eat. This is beneficial in the short term to get rid of the acid; however, in the long term, all that extra ammonia in our kidneys day in and day out seems to exert toxic effects.

Our kidney function tends to decline progressively after our 30s, and, by our 80s, our kidney capacity may be down to half. “Perhaps, the so-called age-related decline in renal function is a result of damage induced by ammonia overproduction.” That’s just one theory, though. The acidic pH may increase the production of free radicals and damage the kidney that way, or add to scarring.

Not only is protein derived from plant foods accompanied by antioxidants that can fight the free radicals, but plant protein is also less acid-forming in the first place because it tends to have fewer sulfur-containing amino acids. One of the reasons plant foods tend to be less acid-forming than animal foods is because acid is produced by the sulfur in the protein, and there’s less in plant proteins.

“[T]he more important determinant of the effect of dietary protein on nephropathy [kidney disease] progression is the quality of the ingested protein (i.e., whether it induces acid-production like most animal protein or base production like most fruit and vegetable protein) when ingested rather than the quantity of protein ingested.”

American diets “are largely acid-producing because they are deficient in fruits and vegetables and contain large amounts of animal products,” so changing from a standard American diet to a vegan diet may improve acidosis in patients with chronic kidney disease. Under normal circumstances, a vegetarian diet is alkalinizing, whereas a nonvegetarian diet leads to an acid load. This was true even of vegetarians who consumed processed meat replacements such as veggie burgers.

Plant-based diets have been prescribed for decades for those with chronic kidney failure. They contain no animal fat, no cholesterol, and less acid formation, and help to lower blood pressure. Indeed, if you compare the kidney function of vegans with vegetarians and omnivores, the most plant-based diet was most associated with improved parameters for the prevention of degenerative kidney decline.

I was surprised to learn how powerfully diet can affect kidney function and structure. My kidney videos include:

And be sure to check out my overview video, How Not to Die from Kidney Disease.

Aren’t some plant foods acidic, though? Check out the chart in my video, How to Treat Kidney Stones With Diet.

Is there any way to test to see how acid-forming your diet is? Yes—and it’s fun! See Testing Your Diet With Pee and Purple Cabbage.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: