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Guide to Preventing Pancreatic Cancer  ( Home | Diet | Foods | Recipes )

12 Diet Tips for Pancreatic Cancer Prevention

pancreatic cancer diet

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 12 diet tips that may help reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer.

Important notice: The information below and elsewhere on this website is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical or health advice. Always seek the advice of a professional health care provider.

#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.

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 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:

  • Select fresh seeds, nuts, legumes, and grains (or at least avoid nuts and grains from last year's harvest)
  • Look for signs of proper storage and avoid foods from countries that have substandard storage requirements
  • Discard nuts that taste stale or look suspicious
  • Eat green vegetables that are rich in chlorophyll to further reduce the risk of harmful impacts of aflatoxins; chlorophyll has been shown to reduce aflatoxins levels

Studies suggest vitamin D can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.

#8:  Be Sure to Get Enough Vitamin D

Vitamin D is well known for its role in maintaining strong bones by promoting calcium absorption in the body, but in recent years vitamin D has also been heralded for its potentially protective effects against pancreatic cancer. According to two large long-term surveys, a daily intake of 300 IU to 449 IU (international units) per day could reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer by 43%. The protective effect of vitamin D against pancreatic cancer is based on the vitamin's ability to block the proliferation of cancerous cells. The best sources of vitamin D include liver, egg yolks, fish, and vitamin-D fortified milk products. The body can also make vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight.

#9:  Reduce Fat Intake, Especially From Animal Fat

A high dietary intake of animal fat has been associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. One study found that the study participants with the highest intake of animal fat had a 43% increased risk of pancreatic cancer compared with the lowest intake group. One substance that is thought to play a major role in this context is arachidonic acid, a type of omega-6 fatty acids that is abundant in fatty red meats, organ meats, and egg yolks. This omega-6 fatty acid appears to stimulate cancer cell growth and to facilitate the spread of pancreatic cancer within the body.

Evidence suggests that arachidonic acid may also be able destroy cells of the immune system involved in the protection against pancreatic cancer. Omega-3 fats — found in salmon, mackerel, flaxseed, walnuts and a few other foods — are believed to inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer. However, also omega-3 fats can be harmful if consumed in excess as all dietary fat stimulates the production of bile which may be converted into apocholic acid, a proven carcinogen, if a lot of fat stagnates in the large intestine for too long. Most nutritionists recommend limiting the total fat intake to approximately 20% of total caloric intake.

#10:  Ensure a Sufficient Intake of Vitamin C and E

Vitamins C and vitamin E scavenge free radicals and boost the immune system, which may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. In addition, vitamin C and vitamin E can inhibit the formation of nitrosamine, a substance that has been found to induce pancreatic cancer in animals and that may cause pancreatic cancer also in humans. However, the impact of vitamin C on nitrosamine formation might be relevant only if there is no fat in the stomach: A group of researchers replicated the chemical conditions of the upper stomach and measured the impact of vitamin C on the production of nitrosamines, both when fat was present in the stomach and when it was absent. Without fat, vitamin C decreased the levels of nitrosamines, but when 10 percent fat was added, vitamin C actually boosted the formation of nitrosamines.

#11:  Eat Plenty of Foods Rich in B Vitamins

Vitamin B is a complex of several vitamins that often work together and co-exist in the same foods. Research suggests that a sufficient intake of the B vitamins, particularly of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B12 (riboflavin) and vitamin B9 (folate), could reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer for people who are at normal or below normal weight. However, evidence indicates that B vitamins may not be protective against pancreatic cancer when obtained through vitamin supplements. Therefore, it is important to include plenty of foods rich in these vitamins in the diet.

#12:  Get Enough Vitamin A and Carotenoids

A large and compelling body of evidence suggests that there is an inverse relationship between the risk of cancer and the consumption of foods rich in vitamin A and carotenoids. Carotenoids, which are precursors to vitamin A, are found in many orange, yellow, and green fruits and vegetables including carrots, sweet potato, cantaloupe, spinach, kale, and collard greens. The most common carotenoids in the Western diet include beta-carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthin, and lutein. The protective effects of dietary vitamin A and carotenoids have been shown to be particularly strong for lung cancer, but also the risk of pancreatic cancer may be reduced by including a variety of carotenoid-rich foods in diet.

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