Cancer of the pancreas used to be considered relatively rare, but its incidence has been slowly increasing, likely because of the rising numbers of older adults in the U.S. (this kind of cancer is more common with advancing age; most cases develop after the age of 60). In fact, pancreatic cancer is now the fourth leading cause of cancer death, and it is expected to move up to second place, possibly as soon as 2015, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
The disease is more common among men than women and occurs more often among African-Americans than among any other group. The risk of developing it triples if your mother, father, sister or brother had the disease. A family history of colon or ovarian cancer also increases risk. In addition, smokers are two to three times more likely to develop the disease than nonsmokers. Diabetes and being overweight are also risk factors, as is, possibly, excessive alcohol consumption. Bear in mind, however, that most people with these risk factors do not develop pancreatic cancer. And many people who do get the disease have no risk factors at all.
A recently published National Cancer Institute (NCI) study found that a healthy diet – along the lines of the 2005 federal dietary guidelines which emphasize eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily – reduced the risk of pancreatic cancer by 15 percent among the more than 500,000 participants ages 50-71. In addition to focusing on fruits and vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy products, the guidelines call for limiting consumption of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt and alcohol. While the study didn’t prove that the diet was responsible for the decreased risk, it did show an association between adhering to a healthy diet and a lower risk of pancreatic cancer.
Study leader Hannah Arem was quoted in news reports as saying that the researchers also tested the influence of education, smoking history, physical activity and vitamin use, plus other factors, but noted that the 15 percent reduction in risk could be due to healthy behaviors that the investigators didn’t ask about. The NCI researchers also found that the association between diet and a lower risk of pancreatic cancer was stronger in overweight or obese men, but not in overweight or obese women. The study was published online on August 15, 2013 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
An earlier study from the University of California at San Francisco, published in September 2005, found that eating five or more servings per day of yams, corn, carrots, onions, and similarly colored vegetables is associated with a lower risk of pancreatic cancer. Eating spinach, kale and other dark green leafy vegetables, as well as cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, also lowers the risk.
The researchers asked 2,233 men and women, including 532 pancreatic cancer patients, how much produce they ate. Then, they looked at the eating habits of the cancer patients compared with the eating habits of the others.
Tomatoes and other vegetables also were beneficial but not as protective as the yellow vegetables mentioned above or the dark green leafy vegetables. Eating citrus helped somewhat but not as much as vegetables. And overall, raw vegetables seemed to provide more protection than cooked vegetables. The study was published in the September 2005 issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.
7 Best Diet for Pancreatic Cancer Prevention
Certain dietary habits may predispose a person to pancreatic cancer. On the other hand, other dietary factors may play a key role in the prevention of this potentially deadly disease. The paragraphs below describe 7 diet tips that may help reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer.
1. Choose Low Glycemic Foods
Glycemic Index, often simply abbreviated as GI, is a measure of the power of carbohydrate containing foods to affect blood sugar levels. Foods with a low glycemic rating encourage stable blood glucose levels, while foods that cause rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels are rated high on the Glycemic Index. Foods that have a high GI rating have been linked to the development of pancreatic cancer.
This link is thought to be related to the ability of high GI foods to stimulate the production of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF), two hormones that have been shown to stimulate tumor proliferation and progression and to speed up the spreading of pancreatic cancer within the body. Most legumes, non-starchy vegetables, and fruit have a low GI rating, while most refined carbohydrate containing foods are rated high on the Glycemic Index.
2. Avoid Excess Protein
More than hundred years ago John Beard, a Scottish doctor, discovered that one of the body's best defense mechanisms against cancer is pancreatin, a mix of enzymes that are also involved in the digestion of proteins. High protein diets keep the pancreatic enzymes busy digesting protein, and therefore these enzymes cannot focus on their other key task, the eradication of cancer. While a certain amount of protein is necessary for the proper functioning of the body, you should avoid excessive amounts of protein if you want to reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer. Some nutritionists suggest that the body needs a protein-free period of approximately 12 hours a day in order to effectively fight cancer, such as pancreatic cancer.
Broccoli I3C in cruciferous vegetables may help guard against pancreatic cancer.
3. Eat Foods That Deliver I3C
Cruciferous vegetables — such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts — are famous for their anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties. These properties are largely attributable to indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a natural compound that occurs in cruciferous vegetables when the plant cell walls are broken through chopping, crushing, or chewing. I3C helps detoxify harmful substances, such as carcinogens that could cause pancreatic cancer, and destroy free radicals.
4. Count on Curcumin
Curcumin is a phenolic compound that gives turmeric its bright yellow color. Curcumin has been used, in the form of turmeric, in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for centuries to prevent and treat a wide range of health problems. In recent years, also western medicine has started to pay greater attention to this extraordinary phytochemical which, according to recent research, can provide protection against almost any type of cancer, including pancreatic cancer.
In one study, researchers found that curcumin could inhibit the production of interleukin-8, a special protein produced by white blood cells that contributes to the development of pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, curcumin has been shown to effectively destroy free radicals and to prevent nitrosamine formation (nitrosamines are considered potential human pancreatic carcinogens).
5. Consume Foods That Provide Ellagic Acid
Raspberries Raspberries provide a concentrated source of ellagic acid.
In the battle against pancreatic cancer, ellagic acid might well be your best weapon. According to research, ellagic acid can activate detoxifying enzymes in the liver, resulting in the clearing of cancer-causing substances in the serum. It can also prevent carcinogens from attaching to cellular DNA.
Furthermore, ellagic acid has been shown to stimulate the immune system to more effectively fight cancer cells as well as to trigger apoptosis (i.e. self-destruction of cancerous cells). Additionally, ellagic acid has antioxidant properties which allow it to attack potentially pancreatic cancer causing free radicals. Ellagitannin, which the body converts into ellagic acid, is present in many red fruits and berries, raspberries being a particularly good source of this extraordinary cancer combating compound.
6. Avoid Foods That Contain Nitrates
Nitrates are natural substances that are present in the soil, air, surface water, ground water, and plants. Nitrates are also used to give processed meat products a deep red color. The nitrates in food can be converted by the body into nitrites, which in turn can form nitrosamines.
Nitrosamines have been found to induce pancreatic cancer in animals and are considered potential human pancreatic carcinogens. Luckily, nitrosamine formation can be inhibited by certain antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E. As most vegetables are packed with antioxidants, nitrosamine formation is usually not a concern when you eat vegetables, even if they contain some nitrates.
7. Avoid Foods That May Be Contaminated with Aflatoxin
Select Fresh Nuts, Grains and Legumes. Carcinogenic substances can occur in foods when certain fungi that grow on food produce toxins during processing and/or storage. These toxins include aflatoxins — poisonous substances that have been shown to cause liver cancer and that have been postulated to pose an increased risk for pancreatic cancer. Peanuts appear to be particularly susceptible to contamination with aflatoxins, but also many other types of foods, including whole grains, legumes, nuts, and spices are vulnerable to the fungus producing aflatoxins. These poisons are resistant to cooking and freezing, but care in selecting your foods can greatly reduce your risk of exposure to these toxins:
- Only purchase fresh seeds, legumes, nuts and grains (or at least avoid last year's harvest)
- Look for signs of proper storage and avoid foods from countries that may adhere to substandard storage standards
- Throw away nuts that taste stale or look suspicious
- Eat green vegetables that are rich in chlorophyllin — chlorophyllin has been shown to reduce aflatoxins levels