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Nutrition | Whole Grains Protect the Pancreas from Cancer

Whole Grains Protect the Pancreas from Cancer

January 3, 2008—Quitting smoking may help you avoid pancreatic cancer, and now there is evidence that changing your diet can also help: a new study has found that eating whole grains might reduce pancreatic cancer risk.

One of the deadliest cancers, pancreatic cancer is strongly influenced by genetic factors, but other factors within our control also appear to affect risk. In addition to smoking, being obese and having type 2 diabetes increase pancreatic cancer risk, and there is mounting evidence that eating a diet high in refined grains and sugar and low in fiber also increases risk.

The new study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, compared the diets of 532 people with pancreatic cancer to the diets of 1,701 people who did not have cancer. The people in the study answered questionnaires about their intake of whole grains, refined grains, mixed grains, and sweetened refined grains over the previous year.

Researchers defined whole grains as brown rice, tortillas (corn or flour), popcorn, cooked oatmeal, wheat germ, oat bran and other types of bran, and other grains. Refined grains included white rice, white bread, muffins, bagels, biscuits, rolls, pizza, pasta, pancakes, waffles, and pretzels. Mixed grains included cooked breakfast cereals, cold cereals, dark breads, and some crackers. Sweetened refined grains included cookies, cakes, pies, sweet rolls, doughnuts, and brownies.

The study showed that brown rice, tortillas, and whole grains in the category “other grains” were associated with reduced pancreatic cancer risk, while refined grains had no effect. Cooked oatmeal, oat bran, and other cooked breakfast cereals, as well as doughnuts, and ready-made pies and cakes, were linked to an increased risk.

After analyzing the diets for nutrient content, fiber was found to protect against pancreatic cancer. People with the highest fiber intake (at least 26.5 grams per day) had a 35 to 48% lower risk of pancreatic cancer than people with the lowest fiber intake (15.6 grams per day or less).

The observation that cooked cereals, including oatmeal, increased pancreatic cancer risk was unexpected, but the study’s authors noted that their questionnaire did not distinguish between unprocessed oats (oat groats and steel cut) and highly processed oats (presweetened and instant). These popular processed oatmeal products would be better characterized as refined or sweetened refined grains.

“These findings support the idea that eating a high-fiber diet with plenty of whole grains can prevent pancreatic cancer,” commented Louise Tolzmann, a naturopathic doctor in Oregon who works with people with cancer. “Healthcare professionals and public health policy makers might be able to help people avoid this deadly cancer by encouraging them to include more whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat, and teaching them to use less well-known grains such as barley, quinoa, and millet.”

(Am J Epidemiol 2007;166:1174–85)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.

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