Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage, which contributes to the fact that 80% of patients succumb to the disease less than a year after diagnosis.
What can you do to avoid this devastating illness?
Research shows high levels of three different trace minerals in the body contribute to pancreatic cancer.
And high levels of two other trace minerals in the body could reduce your risk.
But how can you know how much of these five elements are present in your body?
New research indicates a simple, noninvasive test could reveal these levels and warn of pancreatic cancer risks.
Read on to learn more about these amazing discoveries…
Your pancreas: a brief overview
The pancreas is a large gland about six inches long, hidden behind your stomach. It’s split into two parts, each performing a specific function:
- the exocrine pancreas produces digestive juices that flow into the small intestine
- the endocrine pancreas produces insulin and other digestion-relation hormones
The most common type of pancreatic cancer affects the cells lining the ducts of the exocrine pancreas, which can cause unexplained weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin) and back and stomach pains.
While genetic susceptibility accounts for a small percentage of cases, a study published in Current Opinion in Pharmacology concludes about 40% of cases are caused by inflammation in the body caused by poor nutrition, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, obesity and exposure to chemicals.(1)
Three trace metals to avoid
Regarding exposure, studies show high levels cadmium, arsenic and lead in the body can contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer.
Cadmium is most often released into the environment from mining and smelting operations and through phosphate fertilizers. It is quickly absorbed into soils and water and then enters the food chain.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, crops such as tobacco, rice and potatoes can be cadmium-heavy, as they take up a large amount of this toxic metal from the soil and water.(3)
When absorbed into the body, cadmium accumulates in the pancreas, causing cellular problems and eventually cancer if not discharged.
A study published in 2000 concluded cadmium is a “plausible pancreatic carcinogen.”(2)
To reduce your exposure to cadmium
- Do not smoke or chew tobacco.
- Be aware of where your food is grown, and buy organic when you can.
- Check and obey local advisories when fishing and eating seafood.
Arsenic is found in both organic and inorganic forms. Inorganic arsenic is the one to avoid. According to a study published in Gut, the official journal of the British Society of Gastroenterology, high levels found in the body correlate to an increased risk in pancreatic cancer.
In the study, participants with the highest levels of both arsenic and cadmium were between 2 and 3.5 times as likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those with the lowest levels.(4)
Inorganic arsenic is released into the environment in much the same ways as cadmium.
What’s more alarming than arsenic in the environment is the fact that between 1944 and 2011 chickens raised on factory farms were fed chicken feed containing arsenic.(5)
According to the FDA, the addition was used “for growth promotion, feed efficiency and improved pigmentation.”(5) Basically a cost-effective but toxic shortcut to increase profits.
While 3-Nitro (Roxarsone), the specific addition that was pulled in 2011, is no longer present, other arsenic-based animal drugs are still in use on factory farms.
To reduce your exposure to arsenic
- Whenever possible, avoid meat raised on factory farms. Buy local organic when you can.
- Drink filtered water if you live in an area with unusually high arsenic levels in the soil, which can affect your drinking water.
Lead is a heavy metal found in the soil and water, but most harmful exposure comes from things like lead paint, gasoline, copper pipe soldering, plastics and household dust.
We’ve known for years that exposure to lead is harmful, and the Gut study shows us just how bad it is for the pancreas. According to the study, people with high levels of lead in the body were six times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those with low levels.(4)
To reduce your lead exposure
- If renovating a home built before 1978 wear masks and keep children away from the site until complete as lead-based particulates and dust may be released into the air.
- Wet-wipe surfaces in the home regularly to reduce dust.
- Have the soil in your yard tested for lead. If the level is high, do not plant a garden in the soil.
Two trace minerals to embrace
Not all trace elements are harmful to your health. In fact, in the study published in Gut, high concentrations of nickel and selenium in the body were shown to reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
The patients with the highest levels of these two trace minerals were between 33% and 95% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those with the lowest levels.(4)
Nickel is thought to help the body absorb iron more efficiently, which in turn supports the generation of red blood cells and healthy cellular activity.
Animal studies have shown nickel to be involved in the regulation of B12, folate and an important amino acid called methionine. A study published in Cancer Research suggests deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals contribute to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.(6)
Good food sources of nickel are
- dry beans
Doctors and researchers have long known that antioxidants reduce oxidative stress in cells, which is the first step toward abnormal growth and tumors. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to wipe out free radicals and reduce inflammation.
In fact, in addition to the Gut study, a study published in the British Medical Journal suggests increasing the dietary intake of selenium could help cut the risk of developing pancreatic cancer by two-thirds.
The participants in the study who had a weekly selenium intake in the top 25% had roughly half the risk of developing the disease than those whose intake was in the bottom 25%.(7)
Good dietary sources of selenium include
- Brazil nuts (just two per day provides the recommended daily allowance)
Your toenails may hold the secret to avoiding pancreatic cancer
So how can you test the trace mineral levels in your body? Surprisingly, the answer lies in your toenails.
The researchers in the Gut study tested participants’ toenail clippings for 12 different trace minerals. And in a study performed at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, researchers found toenail clippings to be a viable biomarker for testing trace minerals.(8)
Human nails are largely composed of keratin-rich proteins, and the trace elements taken in through diet are stored in these proteins for a long time, giving researchers a more consistent reading than other methods. Toenails are thought to be especially useful because of the slow rate of growth.
So see if the clinic in your area administers the toenail test. Once you know your levels, you can take the necessary steps to reduce the amount of cadmium, arsenic and lead in your body as well as boost your intake of nickel and selenium.
Making these small changes as part of an overall healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer.
- Inflammation and pancreatic cancer: an evidence-based review. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1471489209000848
- Is cadmium a cause of human pancreatic cancer? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10698473
- Cadmium toxicity: Where is cadmium found? http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=6&po=5
- Pancreatic cancer risk and levels of trace elements. http://gut.bmj.com/content/61/11/1583.abstract?sid=47358ceb-1e2e-4931-83e0-37b0c294e508
- Questions and answers regarding 3-Nitro (Roxarsone). http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm258313.htm
- Plasma folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and homocysteine and pancreatic cancer risk in four large cohorts. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/67/11/5553.short
- High dietary antioxidant intake might cut pancreatic cancer risk. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120723193203.htm
- Trace elements in nails as biomarkers in clinical research. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2998551/