Astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died of pancreatic cancer July 23 at the young age of 61. Pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest cancers, is very difficult to treat and has a very low survivability rate. To prevent pancreatic cancer, new research suggests a diet high in antioxidants could significantly lower your risk of the disease.
Sally Ride R.I.P.
Sally Ride defied death by flying two missions on the space shuttle Challenger. She was training for a third mission when Challenger exploded shortly after launch in 1986 and later served on a presidential commission investigating the disaster. Her life of incredible accomplishments ended after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Among the deadliest cancers
Ride survived longer than most people after they’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 75 percent of patients die less than a year after diagnosis, and 94 percent die within five years. One of the reasons the disease is so deadly is that by the time it’s diagnosed, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. There are no screening tools for pancreatic cancer and those affected present few symptoms until it’s too late.
Genetics, smoking and type 2 diabetes are all risk factors. Diet is also believed to play a role. A recent study by British researchers published online in the journal Gut suggests that a diet high in antioxidants such as selenium and vitamins C and E may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer by up to two-thirds.
Antioxidants vs. pancreatic cancer
Researchers from the University of East Anglia tracked the health of more than 23,500 people from 1994 to 2010. Participants began the study by keeping a food journal detailing how they prepared and ate meals for a week. In ten years 49 participants were had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. By 21 that number increased to 86. True to form, patients survived an average of just six months after diagnosis.
A dietary analysis showed that people with the highest dietary intake of selenium were half as likely to develop the disease as those with the lowest intake. Participants with the highest intake of the trio of selenium and vitamins C and E had a 67 percent lower risk compared to those with the lowest intake of those antioxidants.
Antioxidants in food
Other studies using antioxidant supplements have not been as promising. The researchers said this could be because antioxidants in food behave differently than those in supplements. Foods rich in selenium include nuts, fish, shellfish and liver. Bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries and pineapple are among the richest sources of Vitamin C. Rich Vitamin E food sources include sunflower seeds, almonds and many dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard and turnip greens.
Lower your risk
Pancreatic cancer kills more than 250,000 people worldwide each year. According to the American Cancer Society, about 43,900 people will be diagnosed this year and 37,000 will die. The lifetime risk of getting pancreatic cancer is about one in 71.
Even though further study is needed on the efficacy of antioxidants, stepping up your intake has no downside. A healthy low-fat diet low on red meats and high on fruit, vegetables, chicken and fish could deliver the level of antioxidants sufficient to lower your lifetime risk of pancreatic cancer.