Staying Healthy Newsletter - Antioxidants & Cancer; Supporting Mental Function
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Antioxidants & Cancer; Supporting Mental Function

Antioxidant Trio & Pancreatic Cancer Risk

Awareness of pancreatic cancer rose last month with the news that astronaut Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space, lost her battle with this disease. Pancreatic cancer, which also claimed the life of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs last year, is relatively rare. The number of people affected by pancreatic cancer yearly is fairly low: a little more than 250,000 globally. It has, however, the worst survival rate of any cancer.

While genes, smoking and type-2 diabetes are all major risk factors for pancreatic cancer, it’s thought that diet, too, could play a role. In support of that idea are new findings that increasing dietary intake of certain antioxidants may help cut the risk of developing this cancer by up to two-thirds (1).

Findings from the ‘EPIC’ Study

U.K researchers tracked the health of nearly 24,000 people who took part in the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (the EPIC study). Participants completed comprehensive food diaries that detailed the types and amounts of every food they ate, including the methods used to prepare it. The researchers analyzed the nutrient intakes of those who developed pancreatic cancer within 10 years of entering the study, and compared that with the intakes of about 4,000 healthy people to see if there were any differences.

They found that those with the highest intake of vitamins C, E and selenium were 67% less likely to develop the disease than those consuming the least. If this association holds true, 1 in 12 of these cancers might be prevented, according to the researchers.

Tips for Staying Mentally Sharp

There are many factors that can affect our ability to concentrate and be mentally sharp on any given day. Examples include: what we eat, whether we are physically active, how we manage stress, and whether or not we’ve had a good night’s sleep.

Drinking caffeinated coffee is probably the most popular way to gain a temporary mental boost. (Research also suggests that this morning routine may have even more enduring effects on mental well-being and health. Moderate coffee consumption – 2-3 cups daily – has been linked to lower risk of depression, Parkinson’s, and ischemic stroke, as well as a significantly reduced risk for type 2 diabetes).

Aside from taking coffee or tea breaks, the results of two new studies suggest some other ways to help support mental focus:

Keep Your Water Bottle Handy. According to studies in both young men and women, even mild dehydration can alter mood and the ability to think clearly, leaving subjects feeling “cranky” and tired (2,3). In the most recent evaluation, researchers compared the results of cognitive tests taken when participants were not dehydrated, and when they were mildly dehydrated – either from gentle walking or simply from being sedentary.

In women, mild dehydration caused headaches, fatigue, and difficultly concentrating. While the symptoms were not as pronounced for men, mild dehydration also caused some difficulty with mental tasks, as well as fatigue, tension and anxiety.

Try Aroma Therapy. Researchers report that the scent given off by the essential oils of the herb rosemary may improve mental performance (4). Subjects in the experiment were exposed to varying levels of the rosemary aroma, and blood levels of one of rosemary’s main chemicals (1,8-ceneole) was measured.

Results indicate that blood levels of the compound absorbed from the scent were related to mental performance. Higher blood levels resulted in improved results on speed and accuracy tests.


  1. Banin PJR, et al. Dietary antioxidants and the aetiology of pancreatic cancer: a cohort study using data from food diaries and biomarkers. Gut [Epub ahead of print].
  2. Ganio MS, et al. Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men. Br J Nutr 106:1535-43, 2011.
  3. Armstrong LE, et al. Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women. J Nutr 142:381-8, 2012.
  4. Moss M, Oliver L. Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma. Ther Adv Psychopharm 2:103-113, 2012.
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