Until now, the only surefire way to lower your risk of pancreatic cancer was to stop smoking and maintain a healthy weight. But adding a little extra vitamin D to your diet may help as well, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.
Pancreatic cancer is rare, but when it does strike, it is difficult to treat successfully. Approximately 33,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and only about 1,000 will survive this rapidly-spreading disease.
Ninety percent of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are age 55 and older, and it is more common in men than in women. Some diseases, such as chronic pancreatitis and diabetes may also increase one's risk, as well as exposure to certain chemical, such as pesticides or dyes.
Previous studies have found a possible link between processed meats, like bacon and sausage, and pancreatic cancer, but few studies have found any evidence of foods that help to reduce one's risk.
Vitamin D intake has been shown to reduce the risk of colon, breast and prostate cancer. So, researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago decided to find out if it also helps reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer.
"Vitamin D exhibits potent anti-tumor effects in many tissues," wrote Dr. Halcyon Skinner and colleagues.
The researchers tracked over 23,000 men and women between the ages of 38 and 75 for 16 years, monitoring their diet and any cases of pancreatic cancer. Over the course of the study, 365 participants developed the disease.
Looking closely at vitamin D intake, the researchers noted that those participants who consumed the lowest amount of vitamin D, either through diet or supplements, had the greatest risk of developing the disease. Those participants who consumed the recommended daily dose or more of this vitamin, on the other hand, had a significantly lower chance of developing pancreatic cancer.
"Our results point to a potential role for vitamin D in the…prevention of pancreatic cancer," wrote Skinner.
The FDA recommends that a healthy adult consume 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D, which can be found in fortified dairy products, fatty fish (like salmon or sardines) and eggs.
However, the majority of the study participants who consumed the recommended dose of vitamin D took vitamin supplements, so it is unclear as to whether consuming foods with this substance is equally effective.