In a study published in a recent issue of Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, investigators combined data from four large studies and found that people who were at or below normal body weight decreased their risk for developing pancreatic cancer if they took in high levels of vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate from food.
The study determined that their risk was 81 percent, 73 percent and 59 percent lower in vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate, respectively, compared with participants who did not eat as much of these nutrients or who weighed more.
According to the researchers, that was the only statistically significant finding from the study, which is the largest yet to look at these nutrients and the associated risk of pancreatic cancer.
This study gains an increased profile in light of the recent death of opera superstar Lucanio Pavarotti of the disease. The singer had battled weight issues for decades.
"All we can say is that a person who has reason to be concerned about their risk of developing this cancer, which is relatively rare but can be quite deadly, should maintain a normal weight, and eat their fruits and vegetables," said the study's lead investigator, Eva Schernhammer, M.D., Dr.PH, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The researchers also determined that they uncovered another interesting trend — that some people who received these nutrients from multivitamin pills actually had an increased risk of developing the disease.
According to the researchers, individuals who said that they used multivitamins — and whose blood showed traces of these nutrients — had a 139 percent increased relative risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
"This is a preliminary, but intriguing, finding because it suggests that something in the vitamins may fuel pancreatic cancer growth," said Schernhammer.
This isn't the first study to suggest that folate, and vitamins B6 and B12 — so called one-carbon nutrients — are protective against pancreatic cancer if they come from food but not if they come from multivitamins, said Schernhammer.
One large Finnish study found one-carbon food nutrients were associated with a decreased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, but that vitamin pills were not helpful. Two other large American studies also found the food nutrients to be protective.