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.