5 Ways to Support the Health of Your Pancreas

The steps you can take to reduce your risk of disease will boost your overall wellness, too.

Medically reviewed in December 2021

Updated on December 23, 2021

Pancreatic cancer is relatively uncommon but, unfortunately, often fatal. The good news is that research has identified several things you can do in your daily life that may help reduce your risk for the disease.

These include several lifestyle tweaks that form the underpinning of overall well-being:

  • Prioritize exercise: That means getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Smart (and fun) options include walking or jogging with friends, bicycling, hiking, or dancing.
  • Go easy on alcohol: If you don’t already drink, don’t start. If you do imbibe, stick to a moderate amount. That means no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two a day for men.
  • Lose weight: If you are considered overweight or obese, consult with your healthcare provider (HCP) on healthy ways to lose weight. That may involve a combination of exercise and reducing your daily intake of calories. In many cases, you can do so without feeling deprived or hungry. Try increasing your intake of filling, fiber-rich foods like non-starchy vegetables, beans, and legumes, plus lean sources of protein. Include some foods with satiating healthy fats, like nuts and seeds (more on an optimal eating pattern below).
  • Quit smoking: This one is a no-brainer. Quitting smoking is quite possibly the most important thing you can do to improve your pancreatic health—and total wellness—today. It’s not easy to quit cold turkey, so seek support from your HCP, friends, and family, or follow a quit program.

Eat like a Greek
The fifth approach may be the most fun. Research has indicated that people whose diet most closely resembles a Mediterranean-style of eating can cut their risk of pancreatic cancer—in some cases by nearly half—compared to those who eat a diet that least resembles the Mediterranean style.

What are the hallmarks of the Mediterranean style?

  • Eating plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, and fatty fish (like trout, salmon, mackerel, and sardines)
  • Favoring healthy monounsaturated fats (like olive oils) over saturated fats (like butter)
  • Going easy on dairy products and fatty meats (like steak or bacon)

5-star pancreas protection
Adopting even just a few of these five habits can help diminish your risk of pancreatic cancer. Quitting smoking and reducing belly fat seem to be particularly helpful. But the benefit of a holistic approach showed striking reductions in pancreatic risk in a large study published in 2020 in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

If you can't incorporate all five health habits at once, pick a couple to adopt for starters, and stick with them. Not only will you be reducing your cancer risk, but you’ll build the foundation for a happier, healthier you.

Article sources open article sources

American Cancer Society. Can Pancreatic Cancer Be Prevented? Last Revised: June 9, 2020.
Zheng J, Guinter MA, Merchant AT, et al. Dietary patterns and risk of pancreatic cancer: a systematic review. Nutr Rev. 2017;75(11):883-908.
Bosetti C, Turati F, Dal Pont A, et al. The role of Mediterranean diet on the risk of pancreatic cancer. Br J Cancer. 2013;109(5):1360-1366.
Lu P-Y, Shu L, Shen S-S, Chen X-J, Zhang X-Y. Dietary Patterns and Pancreatic Cancer Risk: A Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2017;9(1).
Naudin S, Viallon V, Hashim D, et al. Healthy lifestyle and the risk of pancreatic cancer in the EPIC study. Eur J Epidemiol. 2020;35(10):975-986.
Jiao L, Mitrou PN, Reedy J, et al. A combined healthy lifestyle score and risk of pancreatic cancer in a large cohort study. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(8):764-770.

More On

Common Tests Explained: Endoscopy

video

Common Tests Explained: Endoscopy
During an endoscopy, a doctor uses a tiny camera to examine the inside of your digestive tract. In this video, Karen Smith, RN, of Doctors Hospital of...
Crohn’s Disease: Talking to Your Doctor About Fatigue

article

Crohn’s Disease: Talking to Your Doctor About Fatigue
Fatigue is a common symptom of Crohn’s disease as well as ulcerative colitis (the other main type of inflammatory bowel disease). There are a number o...
When Bloating May Be Something Serious

slideshow

When Bloating May Be Something Serious
Learn about six serious conditions that cause bloating.
How the social determinants of health impact ulcerative colitis

video

How the social determinants of health impact ulcerative colitis
Recognizing and understanding the five social determinants of health may help manage ulcerative colitis.
Ask the Experts: Irritable Bowel Syndrome

video

Ask the Experts: Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Experts aren’t sure what exactly causes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), they know certain triggers can exacerbate symptoms. In this video, Kevin Soden...