Dietary Fat, Diabetes, and Pancreatic Cancer

Pamela A. Popper, Ph.D., N.D.

Wellness Forum Health

Pancreatic cancer is one of the more deadly cancers, and is fatal almost all of the time. Both smoking and obesity have been linked to increased risk of pancreatic cancer, but like all cancers, pancreatic cancer is more prevalent in populations consuming a Westernized diet, with a high intake of saturated fat from meat and dairy products. Furthermore, research shows that there is a direct connection between dietary fat and pancreatic cancer.

Researchers followed 500,000 people for an average of 6 years. During that time, 1337 subjects were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; 865 men and 472 women. Men who consumed the most total fat had a 53% increased rate of pancreatic cancer compared to men consuming the diets lowest in fat. For women, the rate was 23% higher for those consuming the most fat. Overall, patients consuming the highest amount of saturated fat had a 36% higher rate of pancreatic cancer.

But the study also showed that intake of total fat, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fat mattered too. The authors wrote, “We observed positive associations between pancreatic cancer and intakes of total, saturated, and monounsaturated fat overall, particularly from red meat and dairy food sources.” In other words, consuming “better fats” does is not protective; eating a diet low in all fats is.

The authors suggested that the relationship between fat intake and pancreatic cancer might be related to the fact that the pancreas secretes enzymes needed to digest fat, and that over-working the pancreas might be a factor. But the relationship could also be due to the fact that high fat intake is related to insulin resistance. The accumulation of intramyocellular fat (fat inside the cells) makes cells more insulin resistant, and insulin resistance and diabetes are risk factors for pancreatic cancer. Research shows that approximately 80% of pancreatic cancer patients have glucose intolerance or diabetes.

Diabetics should be advised that they are at very high risk of developing many other diseases, including pancreatic cancer. This can provide additional motivation to change their diets, lose weight, and resolve their health issues.

Prevention is always the best option, but since there are no effective proven treatments for pancreatic cancer, prevention is the only option.

Thiebaut A, Jiao L, Silverman D, et al. “Dietary Fatty Acids and Pancreatic Cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study” JNCI 2009 101(14):1001-1011

Wang F, Herrington M, Larsson J, Permert J. “The relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer.” Mol Cancer. 2003; 2:4.