According to results recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, increased folate intake from food is associated with a decreased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Folate from supplements, however, did not decrease the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

The pancreas is a gland located in the abdomen. It produces juices that help digest foods as well as the hormones that help regulate blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the US; each year, approximately 30,000 individuals are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and nearly the same number die from the disease annually. Pancreatic cancer has one of the highest mortality rates of all cancers.

Folate is a B vitamin that occurs naturally in food. Its synthetic form found in supplements is folic acid.

Due to the high mortality associated with pancreatic cancer, researchers continue to evaluate ways to reduce the risk of developing the disease. Diet, exercise, smoking, and family history are all being evaluated for associations with the risk of developing various cancers.

Researchers from Sweden and Harvard University recently conducted a study to evaluate a possible link between dietary folate intake and rates of pancreatic cancer. This study included nearly 82,000 men and women from Sweden. The participants answered a food-frequency questionnaire in 1997; at this time, they were cancer-free.

  • At a follow-up of approximately 7 years, 135 participants developed pancreatic cancer.
  • Individuals with the highest intake of folate from food had a significantly decreased risk of developing pancreatic cancer compared to those with the lowest levels of folate.
  • Folate supplements did not affect the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

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The researchers concluded that increased dietary folate appears to significantly decrease the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Further study evaluating dietary folate and pancreatic cancer are warranted. Individuals with a high risk of developing pancreatic cancer may wish to speak with a nutritionist regarding foods that contain high levels of folate.

Reference: Larsson S, Hakansson N, Giovannucci E, Wolk A. Folate Intake and Pancreatic Cancer Incidence: A Prospective Study of Swedish Women and Men. *Journal of the National Cancer Institute.*2006; 98: 407-413.

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