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Fending Off Skin Cancer With SPF Starbucks

Not quite a prescription for a Red Bull and a bike ride, but a new study finds that highly caffeinated mice who get plenty of exercise seem to be at less risk of developing skin cancer from too much sun exposure.

Add to that, mice who drink caffeine-laced water and spend time on their running wheel see less tissue inflammation (always a handy measure of general unhealthiness), according to Yao-Ping Lu, a Rutgers University researcher who presented his study at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Chicago.

Following up on other studies that suggest caffeine protects against skin cancer — whether ingested or rubbed on the skin — Lu took 160 mice that were genetically predisposed to develop the disease and exposed them to ultraviolet-B rays (like those found in sunlight). The exposure usually causes these mice to grow tumors.

Lu divided the critters into four groups, who all ate the same food: he gave one bunch caffeine; another had access to the running wheel; a third set got both caffeine and exercise. The fourth was the control group — they only got water.

The caffeinated mice that got plenty of exercise had 62 percent fewer skin tumors, and the size of their tumors decreased by 85 percent compared with the control mice. The caffeine-only mice had 27 percent fewer tumors (and tumors were 61 percent smaller). The exercise-only mice had a 35 percent fewer tumors (with a 70 percent smaller tumors).

Meanwhile, even on a high-calorie diet, the skin of UV-exposed mice that exercise and consume caffeine has a 90 percent reduction in inflammation-causing molecules called cytokines — and their skin has less fat in it, allowing it to do a better job of eliminating sun-damaged cells than the control mice, Lu says.

Still, “this is a long-term regimen,” Lu warns. “You can’t just drink coffee and get a little exercise. You still need sunscreen and other protective measures.”