Preventing pancreatitis

If you have diabetes, your risk of just about every other disease goes up. But one of the most unrecognized–but common–risks is a condition called pancreatitis.

Your pancreas is the organ that releases hormones and digestive enzymes to break down your food. Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas gets inflamed. That inflammation can activate those enzymes inside the pancreas. And when that happens, they can actually start digesting the organ itself.

Yes, it’s as painful as it sounds. And it can be life-threatening. So it’s worth doing everything you can to prevent it in the first place.

And a new study in the journal Gut shows there’s a very easy way to do that. Eat more vegetables.

This study included 80,019 women and men between 46 and 84 years old. Over a 12-year period, there were 320 cases of acute pancreatitis.

But the researchers, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, found the more vegetables people ate, the lower their risk of pancreatitis.

Fruit intake didn’t appear to affect risk at all. It was the vegetables that provided the protection. At least two servings per day offered some benefit. But four servings offered even more protection.

It may sound like a lot, but you’d be surprised how easy it can be to squeeze in a serving of vegetables. Throw a handful of chopped asparagus into your morning omelet, have a big leafy salad topped with steamed, chilled green beans and grilled salmon for lunch, and stuff a big, heirloom tomato with shrimp salad for dinner. And there you go. You’ve met that four-serving quota–and slashed your risk of pancreatitis–without even thinking about it.

“Vegetables, fruit and risk of non-gallstone-related acute pancreatitis: a population-based prospective cohort study.” GutM 2012; June 27 (epub ahead of print)