THURSDAY, June 28, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- A vegetable-heavy diet could help prevent acute pancreatitis, a new study suggests.
The pancreas, which is located behind the stomach, releases digestive enzymes to break down food. Acute pancreatitis is a potentially life-threatening disease that occurs when those enzymes begin to eat the pancreas itself.
For the study, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, examined 80,000 Swedish adults for 11 years after they answered questions about their diets in 1997. The goal of the research was to gain a better understanding of a possible connection between antioxidant levels, which are affected by diet, and an increased risk of acute pancreatitis.
Over the 11 years, 320 participants developed cases of acute pancreatitis that weren't connected to gallstones, which are a common cause of the disease.
On average, those surveyed ate almost two servings of fruit a day and about 2.5 servings of vegetables.
The investigators found that the risk of acute pancreatitis didn't seem to have anything to do with how much fruit people ate. Vegetables, however, appeared to be an important factor, Viktor Oskarsson and colleagues reported in the study, which was published online June 28 in the journal Gut.
After adjusting their statistics for various factors, the researchers found that those who ate more than four servings of vegetables a day were 44 percent less likely to develop acute pancreatitis than those who ate less than one serving of vegetables a day.
Overweight people and those who consumed more than one alcoholic drink per day appeared to get the most positive benefit from eating a lot of vegetables, the findings indicated.
Overall, however, acute pancreatitis -- at least the kind that's not caused by gallstones -- was rare. Although vegetables appeared to have a protective effect, few people developed the condition overall, even if they ate few vegetables.
The researchers suspect antioxidants in vegetables helped prevent the condition, while fructose in fruits may weaken the protective effect.
Although the study uncovered an association between vegetable consumption and a reduced risk of acute pancreatitis, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
For more about pancreatitis, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.