Sweets linked to pancreatic cancer risk
People with diets high in sweets and other foods that cause rapid blood sugar spikes have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those who eat less of those foods.
Glycaemic index refers to how rapidly a food causes blood sugar to rise. High-glycaemic index foods, like white bread and potatoes, tend to spur a quick elevation in blood sugar, while low-glycaemic index foods, such as lentils, soybeans, yogurt and many high-fiber grains, create a more gradual increase in blood sugar.
Pancreatic cancer is a relatively uncommon but particularly deadly form of cancer, with only about 5 percent of patients surviving for five years. Early on, the disease causes no symptoms, or only vague problems like indigestion, so it is rarely caught before it has advanced. Studies so far have identified smoking and long-standing diabetes as risk factors. But the role of diet remains unclear. Some studies have found links between pancreatic cancer and high intakes of red meat and dietary fat, while others have failed to find such a relationship. Findings on carbohydrates and sugar have been similarly inconsistent.
To see if diet high in sweets and other high glycaemic index foods are a risk factor for pancreatic cancer, researchers followed 326 Italians with pancreatic cancer and 652 controls. Dietary data were obtained with the use of a validated food-frequency questionnaire.
No relationship was found between the total carbohydrates in participants' diets and their risk of pancreatic cancer. When the researchers focused on fruit intake, higher consumption was related to a lower risk of the disease. In contrast, there was a relationship between increased pancreatic cancer risk and higher intakes of sugar, candy, honey and jam. This suggests that sugary, processed carbohydrates - rather than carbohydrates like fiber-rich grains, fruits and vegetables - may be particularly linked to pancreatic cancer.
The study does not show that sugary foods cause pancreatic cancer, but it is possible that such diets could contribute to pancreatic risk. Even in the absence of diabetes, such foods influence the body's secretion of the blood-sugar-regulating hormone insulin. And insulin encourages the growth and division of cells in the pancreas - raising the possibility that the hormone could encourage the growth and spread of pancreatic cancer cells.
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