In a large new study of older Americans, researchers find that people with the healthiest eating habits are about 15 percent less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those with the poorest diets.
In the analysis of data on more than 500,000 Americans over age 50, men in particular, especially those who were overweight or obese, appeared to benefit most from a high quality diet.
These findings are based on overall diet and not individual foods. A combination of many foods contributed to the observed association between greater compliance with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and lower risk of pancreatic cancer.
Though pancreatic cancer is rare, it is one of the most aggressive and lethal cancers. Only about six percent of people with pancreatic cancer are still alive five years after diagnosis.
Past studies looking at the relationship between diet and risk for pancreatic cancer have tended to focus on individual foods and found few connections.
To examine links between overall diet and cancer risk, the research used the government-designed Healthy Eating Index published in 2005 (HEI-2005) as a basis for rating the overall quality of people's diets.
They applied those criteria to responses from 537,218 men and women who were part of the American Association for Retired Persons Diet and Health Study. Between 1995 and 1996, participants filled out diet questionnaires about how often they ate items on a list of 124 foods.
Participants were divided into five groups based on how closely their diets met HEI-2005 recommendations for consuming healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains and limiting unhealthy ones, like red meat and junk foods.
Scores on the index range from 0 (no guidelines met) to 100 (all guidelines met), with high scores indicating the healthiest eating patterns.
About 22 percent of the pancreatic cancer cases were among people with the lowest HEI-2005 scores, while 19 percent were in people with the highest scores. Overall, that translates to a 15 percent lower risk among those with the healthiest diets.
Among men who were overweight or obese, however, those with healthy eating scores in the top-fifth group were 28 percent less likely than their counterparts in the bottom-fifth to develop pancreatic cancer. The same effect was not seen among overweight women.
When the researchers adjusted for other factors linked to pancreatic cancer risk, including smoking, alcohol consumption and diabetes, the effects of diet quality remained the same.
The researchers also looked at specific subgroups of foods and found that people who ate the greatest amounts of certain healthy foods, such as dark-green and orange vegetables, legumes, whole grains and low-fat milk, had lowered risk for pancreatic cancer.
While these findings only show an association between healthy eating and reduce pancreatic cancer risk - not cause and effect - it's always prudent to eat a healthy diet.
Source: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, online August 15, 2013.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.