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Can Oleic Acid reduce the Risk of Pancreatic Cancer?

Nov 13, 2020

Highlights

Analysis of data from a population based prospective cohort study called EPIC-Norfolk including  23,658 participants, by the researchers from the United Kingdom found that a high consumption of oleic acid ( a key ingredient of olive oil) as part of the diet may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. However, more studies are needed to confirm these findings. In any case, including moderate amounts of olive oil and other oleic acid rich foods as part of the diet may possibly help to reap the health benefits of oleic acid.



Oleic Acid and its Food Sources

Oleic acid is a natural, non-essential, monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid (MUFA) found in many animal and plant oils and fats. Of all the fatty acids, Oleic acid is the most widely distributed. Being a non-essential fatty acid, it is naturally produced by the human body. The term oleic acid is derived from the Latin word “oleum” which means “oil”. It accounts for 70%‐80% of the active ingredients in olive oil (R W Owen et al., Food Chem Toxicol., 2000). Some examples of the food sources of oleic acid are:

  • Edible oils such as olive oil, macadamia oil and sunflower oil
  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Meat such as chicken and beef

benefits of oleic acid (from olive oil) in pancreatic cancer

General Health Benefits of Oleic Acid

Oleic acids are considered as healthy fatty acids and are known to have many health benefits. Some of the known health benefits of oleic acid include:

  • Aids in reducing the blood pressure
  • Promotes functioning of the brain 
  • Helps in lowering bad cholesterol levels thereby reducing cardiovascular diseases
  • Promotes skin repair
  • Promotes fat burning
  • Helps in maintaining weight and is popular in keto diets
  • Helps in fighting infections
  • Helps in preventing Type 2 Diabetes
  • Helps in preventing inflammatory bowel diseases such as Ulcerative Colitis

Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the United States. 1 in 64 people might be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in their lifetime. According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer is the ninth most common cancer in women and the tenth most common cancer in men accounting for 7% of all cancer deaths. Pancreatic cancer is also the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women.

When it comes to cancer, choosing the right foods and avoiding those foods and supplements which can interfere with cancer treatments or increase the risk of the cancer becomes crucial. Researchers across the world have been carrying out observational studies and meta-analyses to understand the association between different foods and dietary supplements with specific cancer risks. 

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Oleic acids, found in olive oil, are thought to prevent pancreatic cancer such as pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma by reducing hyperinsulinemia which promotes DNA damage and tumor growth. Hence, in a population based prospective cohort study called EPIC-Norfolk, done by the researchers from the James Paget University Hospital, University of Cambridge and University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, the researchers evaluated the link between dietary oleic acid intake and the risk of developing pancreatic cancer based on diet data from food diaries and published serum biomarker data from hemoglobin A1c test, which measures the amount of blood sugar or glucose attached to hemoglobin. (Paul Jr Banim et al, Pancreatology., 2018)

Not many human studies and meta-analyses have been done previously on this topic. A total of 23,658 participants, aged 40-74 years were recruited in EPIC-Norfolk study and for 48.7% of the cohort which includes 11,147 participants, the serum hemoglobin A1c was measured at the time of the recruitment. Subsequently, after a period of around 8.4 years, 88 participants which included 55% women, were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer/ pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. The findings of the study were published in 2018 in the Pancreatology Journal. 

The study found that compared to those who consumed low amounts of oleic acid (a key ingredient of olive oil), there was a significant reduction in the risk of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma/cancer in those who consumed high amounts of oleic acid as part of their diet. Additionally, it was found that this reduction was more significant in those with Body Mass Index (BMI)>25 kg/m2, but not in those with BMI<25 kg/m2. The analysis of serum biomarker data from hemoglobin A1c test found that increased serum hemoglobin  A1c was associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

Conclusion

Based on the findings from the study, the researchers concluded that oleic acid may have a protective role against pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma/cancer, especially in those with higher BMIs. However, more studies are needed to confirm these findings. In any case, including moderate amounts of olive oil and other oleic acid rich foods as part of the diet may possibly help in reducing the risk of pancreatic cancer and also help reap other health benefits of oleic acids. That said, do not consume oleic acid supplements unless advised by your healthcare provider. Avoid taking oleic acid supplements with drugs which are blood thinners, as it may cause bleeding. It should also be avoided by people with hypersensitivity. Like any other cancer, following a healthy diet, being physically active, doing regular exercises and avoiding alcohol are some of the inevitable steps we need to take to stay away from this life threatening disease.


Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.


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