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Cancer Health Center

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Fruits and Veggies Cut Cancer Risks

Studies Offer New Insights Into How Plant-Rich Diets Can Offer Protection
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 16, 2007 (Los Angeles) -- Sure, you've heard it a thousand times, but three new studies cement mom's advice to eat your fruits and veggies: It may help ward off a host of cancers.

One study of 183,518 men and women suggests that a diet high in flavonol-rich apples, berries, kale, and broccoli may help cut the risk of pancreatic cancer, especially in smokers.

Another study of about 500,000 people aged 50 and older shows eating an additional two servings a day of fruit and vegetables -- no matter how many servings you now eat -- can reduce the risk of developing head and neck cancers.

The third study suggests that chemicals in cruciferous vegetables and soy reduce production of two proteins necessary for the spread of breast and ovarian cancers.

The studies were presented here at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Flavonols Lower Pancreatic Cancer Risk

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest of all cancers, killing 95% of victims within five years of diagnosis, says Ute Nothlings, DrPH, a researcher at the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke in Nuthetal, Germany.

But her study shows that people who eat the largest amounts of flavonols -- antioxidants ubiquitous in plant-based foods -- are 23% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who ate the least.

Smokers gained the most benefit. Those who ate the most flavonols reduced their risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 59%, compared with those who ate the least, says Nothlings, who conducted the study as a postdoctoral fellow at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii in Honolulu.

While the findings support recommendations to eat your veggies, a flavonol-rich diet isn't going to protect smokers against developing pancreatic cancers, says Alan Kristal, DrPH, of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Smoking raises your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by twofold, he tells WebMD. And no matter how many trips you make to the salad bar, "you're not going to ameliorate that risk."

For the study, the researchers asked participants about their diet and estimated consumption of three flavonols: quercetin, which is most abundant in onions and apples; kaempferol, found in spinach and some cabbages; and myricetin, found mostly in red onions and berries. Over the next eight years, 529 developed pancreatic cancer.

Kaempferol offered the most protection: Those who consumed the most were 22% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who ate the least. Risk was reduced 73% among smokers.

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