Pancreas and the Pepsi Generation

By David Blyweiss M.D.

Last month, a startling report came out that made a lot of Americans think twice before popping the top on their can of soda. The study, which appeared in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, found that drinking just two sugary soft drinks a week can send your risk of pancreatic cancer through the roof.

The pancreas lies behind the stomach and it’s about the size of a banana that has been stepped on. It makes hormones like insulin and glucagon to balance the amount of sugar in the blood and produces enzymes that help break down fats and protein in foods. But when pancreatic cancer strikes, it can spread quickly, making it one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

Pancreatic cancer isn’t common. In the United States, only 37,680 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer annually. Yet of those, 34,290 die of the disease. That means only about five percent of people with the disease survive. It’s so serious that most people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are given, on average, just three to six months to live.
In this particular study, researchers followed more than 60,000 men and women for 14 years as part of the Singapore Chinese Health Study.

During that time, 140 of the volunteers developed pancreatic cancer. The common denominator between them? Those who drank two or more soft drinks a week had an 87 percent higher risk of being among those who got pancreatic cancer.

This new study clearly points out something that our dietary choices can help set us up for this killer cancer. The problem is the quantity of sugar—typically in the form of high fructose corn syrup—in these fizzy drinks. The pancreas produces insulin to balance the body’s blood sugar levels. More sugar means more insulin. Since insulin promotes the growth of most tissues including cancer cells, a high sugar intake can directly fuel some forms of cancer, including pancreatic cancer.

Given the grim prospects for surviving pancreatic cancer and the fact that there’s no screening test and very few treatment options, anything you can do to reduce your risk is definitely worth considering. Even if this link to pancreatic cancer wasn’t so compelling, sugar is a non-nutrient that damages health in a number of ways and contributes to the growing obesity epidemic.

Of course, my first recommendation is to dump refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Opt instead for the natural sweetness of organic fruit. You can also support healthy insulin levels while you eliminate sugar from your diet with gymnema. This Ayurvedic herb helps to slow the transport of glucose from the intestines into the bloodstream. It also helps reduce sugar cravings by preventing the activation of your taste buds by the sugar molecules in food. I recommend taking 200 mg. of gymnema three times a day for best results.

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Ridding your diet of highly processed sugars may not be easy—most of us have been conditioned to love sweets like candy and soft drinks since we were kids. But it just might be the sweetest thing you’ll ever do for your health.


Mueller NT.  Soft drink and juice consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer: The Singapore Chinese Health Study. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. 2010 19:447-455.

Nöthlings U. Dietary glycemic load, added sugars, and carbohydrates as risk factors for pancreatic cancer: the Multiethnic Cohort Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;86:1495-1501.

Potischman N. Increased risk of early-stage breast cancer related to consumption of sweet foods among women less than age 45 in the United States. Cancer Causes and Controls. 2002;13:937-946.

Schor J. Data Clearly Links Soda Consumption to Pancreatic Cancer. Natural Medicine Journal. March 2010.

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