By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
It isn’t often that you hear of someone dying from pancreatic cancer, especially someone famous. But last month, the world lost both Patrick Swayze and New York Times columnist William Safire to the disease. What makes this so unusual is that pancreatic cancer is considered fairly rare. In fact, only one in about 9,000 people will develop it.
Your pancreas is a small gland that sits behind your stomach. A healthy pancreas is able to produce the right chemicals at the right times in the right quantities so you can properly digest the food you eat. It also secretes insulin and glucagon, two hormones that regulate your blood sugar levels. While most people never experience any problems with their pancreas, people with pancreatic cancer can experience upper abdominal pain, jaundice, loss of appetite, weight loss and depression. But it’s extremely hard to catch pancreatic cancer in its infancy. One reason is that, unlike your heart, liver or colon, your pancreas is tucked away and not easily seen, so routine screening for cancer is next to impossible.
Another reason is that symptoms don’t appear until the cancer has spread to other organs and the disease is in an advanced stage. Because of this, the vast majority of victims die from the disease within months of being diagnosed.
While family history, advancing age and race can increase your chances of developing this deadly cancer, the lifestyle choices you make play a much larger role in your risk of pancreatic cancer. Perhaps the biggest threat to your pancreas comes from cigarette smoking. Smokers are four times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than nonsmokers. Heavy drinking can also set you up for the disease. Diabetes and being overweight are other preventable risk factors that are within your control.
What you eat matters a lot when it comes to your pancreas. A recent study suggests that eating more raw vegetables may cut the risk of pancreatic cancer in half. The study of 2,233 volunteers (including more than 500 pancreatic cancer patients) by the University of California at San Francisco linked eating five or more servings per day of yams, corn, carrots, onions and similar vegetables to a lower risk of the disease. Eating spinach, kale and other dark green leafy vegetables, as well as cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, also lowered the risk.
Vitamin D For Prevention
Until recently, eating a nutritious diet and avoiding bad habits like smoking and drinking were about all you could do to protect your pancreas. But a growing number of studies suggest that taking vitamin D may also boost the odds in your favor. In a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, doctors compared pancreatic cancer rates between people who consumed the most vitamin D—at least 600 IU per day from food and supplements—and those who consumed fewer than 150 IU daily. The high vitamin D group had a rate of pancreatic cancer that was about 40 percent lower than those with the smallest intake.
In a follow-up study, doctors plan to examine the levels of vitamin D in blood samples. That may provide a fuller picture, because people also get vitamin D from sunlight. But, based on the evidence that increasing your vitamin D intake can protect against other forms of cancer, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and several types of autoimmune disease, including this nutrient in your daily regime is a wise move. While sunlight is the primary way we get vitamin D, overexposure can lead to skin cancer and premature aging. Instead try to eat foods rich in vitamin D like salmon and reduced-fat cheese. It’s also prudent to take 1,000 IU of supplemental D3 daily. Smart supplementation, a colorful diet and healthy habits just may give you the edge against this rare, but deadly, disease.
Anderson LN, et al. Lifestyle, dietary, and medical history factors associated with pancreatic cancer risk in Ontario, Canada. Cancer Causes & Control. 2009;20:825-834.
Chan JM, et al. Vegetable and fruit intake and pancreatic cancer in a population-based case-control study in the San Francisco bay area. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. 2005;14:2093-2097.
Skinner HG, et al. Vitamin D intake and the risk for pancreatic cancer in two cohort studies. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2006; 15: 1688.
Talamini R, et al. Tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption and pancreatic cancer risk: A case-control study in Italy. European Journal of Cancer. 2009 Sep 24. [Epub ahead of print]