Which Fatty Acids are Associated with Pancreatic Cancer Risk?

In moderation, fats are an essential part of any healthy diet. Fats are necessary to help the body absorb certain vitamins, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K for a healthy functioning body.

New case-controlled studies into diet and cancer have found important new evidence associating fatty acids with a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. It's important to understand the different types of fats and how some can actually be good for you, such as the type of fat found in fish oil supplements.

Different Types of Fats

Not all fats in our diet are the same. Most packaged foods show a breakdown of nutritional content into total fat, saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat and trans fat.

Trans fats are generally known as the "bad boys" of the family. These fats are particularly likely to raise the levels of bad cholesterol and decrease the levels of good cholesterol which can lead to heart disease. Trans fats can be divided into two groups: industrial trans fats found in vegetable shortening and partially hydrogenated margarines, and naturally occurring trans fats found in dairy products from cows, sheep and goats.

Study into the Relationship Between Fats and Pancreatic Cancer

Dietary fat can be divided into several different subtypes, which is important to understand as doctors tell us that not all fats are bad for our health. A recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer (April 2014) outlined a detailed case study comparing dairy fats, meat fats, fish oils and specific fatty acids. The researchers analyzed the association between different fatty diets, related nutrients, and the risk of pancreatic cancer developing.

The study focused on 384 case studies and 983 controls who were carefully matched on age, sex and race. The study took place between 2004 and 2009.

Initially, study participants completed a detailed questionnaire about their diet, broken down into 144 food items and recording the frequency with which each food was consumed. The results were adjusted to account for age, sex, smoking, body mass index, and the presence of diabetes mellitus. This provided an odds ratio for accuracy of 95%. The study looked at total protein consumed, meat replacement, vitamin B12, vitamin E, zinc, phosphorus and two fatty acids - linoleic acid and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The conclusion of the study highlighted the fact that eating a diet high in total protein which contained certain unsaturated fatty acids showed a lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer compared to those who had a diet high in dairy fats. The study also found there was an increased risk of pancreatic cancer linked to diets high in saturated fatty acids such as butyric acid, caproic acid, caprylic acid and capric acid. These last three fatty acids are particularly associated with goats' milk.

An earlier study, published in 2008, analyzed 865 men and 472 women who were diagnosed with exocrine pancreatic cancer. The study concluded that there was a direct association between those who had a diet high in total fat and monounsaturated fats, but not in those who had a diet high in polyunsaturated fat. The highest risk association was with those who had a diet high in saturated fat from animal sources such as red meat and dairy products.

Next time you look at the fat content of your favorite foods, it's worth bearing in mind that the healthiest source for essential fatty acids is polyunsaturated fat found in nuts, seeds, algae and oily fish.

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