The Anti-Cancer Antioxidant

Mj 618_348_prevent pancreatic cancer
Retales Botijero / Getty Images

Here are the hard, scary facts: Pancreatic cancer is one of the fastest spreading and deadliest types of cancer, and guys are at greater risk than women. The American Cancer Society estimates that roughly 22,000 U.S. men will be diagnosed in 2012 – and almost 19,000 will die of the disease.

Now here’s the much more uplifting news: Eating a diet rich in antioxidants may significantly slash pancreatic cancer risk, according to a new study from the U.K.’s University of East Anglia. Tracking the food diaries of 23,658 adults, researchers found that those with the highest dietary intakes of antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium, specifically, had two-thirds lower incidence of the disease than those who took in the least amounts. The researchers note that these results are associative – meaning they can’t definitively say that food choices prevented pancreatic cancer in these cases – but this study puts more even mustard behind the notion that eating lots of antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains today may help ward off deadly diseases in the future.

“Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals,” says Heather Mangieri, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Experts agree that those free radicals, if left unchecked, are a main cause of cancer and many other diseases.

Which is why antioxidants’ benefits extend way beyond cancer prevention. “Free radical damage plays a role in other chronic diseases, including atherosclerosis and arthritis, and can interfere with your immune system,” Mangieri says. “So even if the possible link between vitamins C and E and selenium and pancreatic cancer risk isn’t enough to get you eating better, there are plenty of other reasons to include antioxidant-rich foods in your diet. Doing so is the smartest, easiest, and least expensive way to prevent disease.”

Luckily, loading up on this trio of antioxidants is easy since scads of real, whole foods are chock-full of them. Mangieri says kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, kiwis, oranges, tangerines, tomatoes, and peppers pack in the vitamin C, while wheat germ, vegetables oils, seeds, broccoli, spinach, mangoes, and kidney beans are solid sources of vitamin E. For selenium, she likes Brazil nuts, tuna, salmon, roast beef, chicken, eggs, cottage cheese, broccoli, milk, cereals, and grains, as well as several fruits and vegetables. And to get all three antioxidants in one fell swoop, Mangieri says to mix up a salad of spinach, kale, and arugula topped with kidney beans, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and a few chopped Brazil nuts, and you’re good to go.

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