Pancreatic Cancer and Gut Health

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month! A critical part of awareness is highlighting some ways to reduce the risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer. While there are no known ways to prevent pancreatic cancer, there are things you can do, including building a strong gut microbiome and optimizing your nutrition and lifestyle to reduce your risk.

Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer has a poor prognosis and high death rate. It accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the United States. But with a little work, you can help keep your risk to a minimum! 

A few quick facts about pancreatic cancer

  • It’s more common in men than women.
  • Pancreatic cancer has one of the highest mortality (death) rates.
  • About 1 in every 64 people will be diagnosed with this cancer.
  • The American Cancer Society estimates as follows:
    • About 62,210 people (about split, though slightly more men) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
    • About 49,830 people (again, about half but still more men) will die of pancreatic cancer.

Risk factors for pancreatic cancer

It is important to note that there are some key risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer. Some are preventable, while others are not. Below are a few. 

  • Smoking and alcohol abuse
  • Obesity and high-fat diet
  • Diabetes
  • Workplace toxins
  • Family history and genetics 
  • Being older than 55
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Certain viruses

Pancreatic cancer and the gut 

So, you might wonder what that has to do with your gut? Surprisingly, there are a lot of correlations between gut health and pancreatic cancer, especially when it comes to reducing a person’s risk. Studies also suggest that a healthy gut microbiome may help reduce the risk of getting this cancer in particular and increase the survival rate of a patient following a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. This is because of the healthy, beneficial bacteria that thrive in a strong gut. In addition, having a solid gut helps build immunity and allows your body to fight diseases.

Some good places to start with building a healthy gut microbiome to reduce pancreatic cancer risk factors are as follows:

Maintain a healthy weight

Two of the key risk factors for pancreatic cancer are being overweight and having diabetes. Furthermore, those who have increased blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes or full blown diabetes have increased GI issues due to high blood sugar. Imbalances in your sugar levels change your digestion and the motility in your gut and can contribute to bloating, diarrhea or constipation. By making adjustments to your diet and exercise, you can not only aid your journey of reaching a healthy weight but can also reduce your cancer risk.

Avoid processed and red meats and refined sugars

This goes hand-in-hand with maintaining a healthy weight. Many studies have shown the correlation between eating processed and red meats and refined sugars with obesity, poor gut health, and overall health. By beginning to remove these items from your diet, along with dairy products, you are allowing your gut microbiome to grow and develop into a robust and healthy environment. This is crucial when making sure your body is as healthy as it can be. By avoiding these products, you reduce some of the risk factors for pancreatic cancer and a variety of other cancers associated with eating a heavily processed, red meat and refined sugar diet.

The American Cancer Society recommends following a healthy, plant-based diet, including fruits, veggies, and whole grains. It’s recommended to avoid processed foods, red meats, and sugary and caffeinated drinks. 

If you’ve been around for a while, I’m sure you’ve read a blog or seen a social media post with information on how to help build a healthy gut microbiome and foods that are great for you and others that are not good. Focusing on whole foods, a plant-based diet, and removing foods that are heavily processed, high in fat and sugar, and many animal products such as red meat and dairy can help drastically reduce your risk for pancreatic cancer.

Get regular physical activity

Being active, especially outdoors, has many benefits for your health and your gut microbiome. Taking a walk, riding a bike, or going for a swim are all low-impact ways to begin increasing your physical activity. Being outside has added benefits of exposing you to nature and sunlight (hello vitamin D!). This can help boost your immune system and allow your gut microbiome to flourish.

Think of food as fuel 

So much of your overall health begins with what you put in your body. When you think of food as fuel and an energy resource instead of an indulgence or a treat, the motivation behind what you consume begins to change. We get out of our bodies what we put into them. Things start to fall apart if we put unhealthy food in and don’t maintain our bodies with regular exercise. It’s like having a car that uses the wrong gas, never changes the oil, and forgets to top off the rest of the fluids. That car would not run very well if it ran at all. Our bodies are amazing machines with excellent healing capabilities. Putting in the work to develop a healthy gut microbiome and a solid overall level of nutrition and exercise is a great starting point for building a robust immune system. By doing so, you will help to reduce several risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer.

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