The pancreas is a large gland located behind the stomach. It secretes insulin, necessary for blood sugar control, directly into the blood stream. It also secretes digestive juices necessary for digestion of proteins into the small intestine. About 46,000 Americans develop pancreatic cancer every year, which is impossible to screen for, and is difficult to diagnose early and to treat successfully—few patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive more than a year. Therefore, it’s particularly important to prevent pancreatic cancer.
Here’s how you can stack the deck in your favor to avoid pancreatic cancer, according to Dr. Michael Greger in his book “How Not to Die” and on his website nutritionfacts.org:
- Don’t smoke—about 20 percent of cases of pancreatic cancer are related to smoking.
- Maintain your ideal body weight, because obesity is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Check your height and your weight and google your BMI to find out if you’re overweight.
- Avoid heavy drinking, which is another risk factor for pancreatic cancer. More than 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men is considered unhealthy (note that any alcohol except perhaps a little red wine is a risk factor for breast cancer in women). One drink is defined as 4 ounces of wine, 12 or beer, or 1 oz of hard alcohol.
- Avoid fat from animal products. Dr. Greger notes that older studies have been conflicting but that the large, NIH-AARP study showed that “the consumption of fat from all animal sources was significantly associated with pancreatic cancer risk, but no correlation was found with consumption of plant fats.” This means that you should avoid meat including chicken, seafood, eggs, and all dairy products including cheese and yogurt. Instead, get the fat you need in your diet from nuts, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, flax, chia, hemp), olives and avocados.
- If you want to avoid pancreatic cancer, it’s particularly important that you avoid chicken. In a study of 30,000 poultry workers, their risk of pancreatic cancer was found to be 9 times the risk in the general population. This is thought to be due to cancer-causing poultry viruses, that can be transmitted to humans. Regarding people who eat chicken, a large European study found a 72 percent increase in pancreatic cancer for every 50 grams of chicken eaten daily (50 grams is about 1/4 of a chicken breast).
- Eat 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoonfuls of turmeric a day, which in the lab has been shown to reverse early cancerous changes in pancreatic cells. Larger doses of turmeric taken daily have been shown to be as effective as chemotherapy in delaying progression of pancreatic cancer.
- Avoid foods with a high glycemic index—in his book “Fast Food Genocide,” Dr. Joel Fuhrman notes that these foods are linked to several cancers, including pancreatic. These are foods such as sugary or refined foods, that raise you blood sugar rapidly (if you eat an orange, your blood sugar doesn’t go up much because of the fiber in the orange—orange juice, which is basically flavored sugar water, raises your blood sugar rapidly).
- Avoid processed meat (such as sausage, lunch meat, bacon, ham) and fast food. Dr. Fuhrman notes that “increased consumption of processed meat, and meats cooked with typical fast food cooking techniques, correlates positively with the likelihood of developing…pancreatic… cancer.” Carcinogens such as heterocyclic amines are formed when muscle meat “including beef, pork, fish, and poultry” is cooked at high temperatures, such as pan frying and grilling.
- Eat cruciferous vegetables daily, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, bok choy, brussels sprouts. Dr. Fuhrman cites a study showing that one or more servings of cabbage a week reduced risk of pancreatic cancer by 38 percent.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, after skin cancer. Every year about 230,000 women in this country are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,000 die from it. Mammograms and self-breast exams supposedly lead to early detection, but in reality, this is “late detection” because breast cancer has been present for years—up to 4 decades– by the time it is diagnosed. Some of the 2-billion cells in our bodies are always mutating. We evolved to eat plants, and plants contain micro-nutrients that destroy these mutant cells before they propagate– animal products lack this ability.
Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D. is one of the two doctors (Dr. Ornish was the other) who proved that plant-based, whole food nutrition with no salt, sugar or added oil reverses heart disease. Dr. Esselstyn, now in his 80s, started out as a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic decades ago. He was operating on young women who presented with breast cancer, and the treatment back then was radical mastectomy—a very disfiguring operation. Dr. Esselstyn started looking for a way to prevent breast cancer and found out that populations who ate a plant-based diet had an extremely low rate of breast cancer.
If you are a woman and want to do everything you can to prevent breast cancer, read the chapter on breast cancer in Dr. Greger’s book “How Not to Die,” and search breast cancer on his website NutritionFacts.org. If you are a breast cancer survivor, read “The Cancer Survivor’s Guide, Foods That Help You Fight Back!” by Neal Barnard, M.D. Following are some of the points made in these two books:
- In 2014 the World Health Organization upgraded its classification of alcohol to “a definitive human breast carcinogen.” The culprit is acetaldehyde, a toxic breakdown product of alcohol. Dr. Greger notes that the skin of grapes used to make red wine contains a compound that “may help cancel out some of the cancer-causing effects of the alcohol.”
- Melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” appears to have a protective effect against breast cancer. Melatonin levels are lowered by bright lights including computer and TV screens during pre-bedtime hours and by eating meat (for unknown reasons). Eating vegetables raises melatonin levels (again, for unknown reasons).
- Excess estrogen increases breast cancer risk, and women need to be hesitant about taking post-menopausal hormones (“bio-identical hormones” have not been proven to be any safer). Body fat produces estrogen, and therefore people who are overweight are at increased risk for breast cancer.
- Diets high in saturated fat from added oil (coconut oil has the most), meat, dairy products and eggs increase breast cancer risk.
- Regular exercise such as brisk walking for an hour a day lowers the percentage of body fat, and for that and other reasons exercise lowers breast cancer risk.
- Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are carcinogens produced by cooking beef, pork and other meat—and fish and poultry– at high temperatures, such as roasting, pan frying, grilling and baking. According to Dr. Greger, PhIP, “one of the most abundant HCAs in cooked meat, was found to have potent estrogen-like effects, fueling human breast-cancer cell growth.”
- Lignans are phytoestrogens that “dampen the effects of the body’s own estrogen” according to Dr. Greger. Lignans are particularly plentiful in flaxseeds, and are also found in berries, whole grains and dark, leafy greens. Flaxseed has even been shown to reduce breast cancer tumor growth. Antibiotics kill health-promoting gut bacteria which are important in activating lignans.
- According to Dr. Greger, some studies have shown a link between high cholesterol levels and breast cancer risk, thought to be due to our bodies “using cholesterol to make estrogen or to shore up tumor membranes to help the cancer migrate and invade more tissue.” Using statins to lower cholesterol does not decrease breast cancer risk.
- Fiber, which is found only in plant foods, helps remove estrogen via the GI tract and lowers breast cancer risk. For every 20 grams of fiber intake per day, there was a 15 percent lower risk of breast cancer in several studies.
- Apple peels contain a compound that activates a breast tumor-suppressor gene.
- Cancerous stem cells may be why breast cancer can sometimes recur years after apparently successful treatment. Sulforaphane, a component of cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower), “suppresses the ability of breast cancer stem cells to form tumors” according to Dr. Greger. Cooking destroys the enzyme that activates sulforaphane so some cruciferous vegetables should be eaten raw (or eat some raw ones before eating cooked cruciferous vegetables).
- Soybeans contain weak phytoestrogens (phyto = plant) called isoflavones, which attach to estrogen receptors in breast tissue, preventing stronger estrogens from attaching, thereby lowering breast cancer risk. It is thought that high soy intake is why the incidence of breast cancer is low in Asian women. If you are a breast cancer survivor, you should know that according to Dr. Greger, “women diagnosed with breast cancer who ate the most soy lived significantly longer and had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer recurrence.”