An Onion a Day to Keep Pancreatic Cancer Away?


Forget the old adage about an apple a day. If you're looking to lower your risk of pancreatic cancer, you'd be wiser to eat a healthy dose of onions, spinach and certain cabbages. So says a new study that found participants who consumed diets rich in those specific vegetables saw their pancreatic cancer risk reduced, significantly in some cases. Apples, however, didn't provide as much of a benefit

Researchers at the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke, with colleagues in California and Hawaii, examined data from the Multiethnic Cohort Study, which collected dietary and other data on more than 215,000 people, ages 45 to 75, from 1993 through 1996. Data were available on 183,518 participants. The researchers, who reported their findings in the American Journal of Epidemiology, looked for a link between three specific flavonols — quercetin, kaempferol and myricetin — and reduced pancreatic cancer risk. Flavonols, chemicals that occur naturally in plants, have been the subject of much recent research on their possible health benefits.

The study's lead author, Ute Nöthlings, DrPH, MSc, and colleagues reported that total flavonol consumption overall was associated with a lower risk of pancreatic cancer-by almost half. But some foods seemed to offer more benefit than others: Onions and black tea showed a modest association with lowered risk. Apples and green or herbal teas, on the other hand, showed none. Kaempferol, a flavonol found in abundance in spinach and some cabbages, provided the most benefit.

Interestingly, smokers in the study saw more significant risk reduction from all the flavonols. "The effect was largest in smokers, presumably because they are at increased pancreatic risk already," Nöthlings said, noting that smoking is the only established risk factor for pancreatic cancer. "Of course, to quit smoking or not smoke at all is probably the best advice to give in terms of pancreatic cancer prevention."

Although pancreatic cancer is relatively rare, by the time it's diagnosed the treatment options are few and survival rates are poor-making prevention especially important.

But don't be too quick to give up on that apple a day. Although apples may not specifically lower your risk for pancreatic cancer, Nöthlings noted that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables-providing a wide variety of flavonols and other nutrients — is an important component in a healthful lifestyle.

TO LEARN MORE: American Journal of Epidemiology, October 2007; abstract at .

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