Individuals who consume a diet rich in vegetables are significantly less likely to develop acute pancreatitis, say researchers.

The study, published online in the journal Gut, examined 80,000 adults in Sweden in order to determine if an imbalance in antioxidant levels, associated with dietary factors, increased the risk of acute pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas releases hormones as well as digestive enzymes to break down food. However, these enzymes can sometimes activate inside the pancreas, and start to digest the gland itself. Symptoms of acute pancreatitis can be severe and potentially life threatening.

Earlier studies have associated acute pancreatitis with excessive production of free radicals. In addition, levels of antioxidant enzymes, which remove free radicals, are increased during an attack.

In the study, the researchers found that participants consumed on average 2.5 services of vegetables per day and 2 servings of fruit. In general, men, smokers, and those with lower levels of education ate the fewest daily servings of vegetables. A similar profile was observed for fruit consumption, although these participants were more likely to have diabetes or to consume alcohol.

320 study participants developed acute pancreatitis that was not associated with the complications of gallstones.

Although consuming more vegetables appeared to reduce the risk of acute pancreatitis, consuming more fruit did not.

According to the researchers, individuals who consumed more than 4 servings of vegetables per day were 44% less likely to develop acute pancreatitis than people who ate 1 serving per day.

Participants who were overweight or drank more than 1 alcoholic beverage per day seemed to benefit the most from consuming a diet rich in vegetable. The team found that the risk of developing acute pancreatic decreased by 71% among drinkers and by 51% among those who were overweight.

The researchers note that the protective effect of vegetables is most likely due to the high levels of antioxidants they contain. However, why fruit does not appear to reduce the risk of developing acute pancreatitis may be due to its fructose content, which might counter the effects of antioxidants. Earlier studies have associated fructose with free radical production.

If further studies verify these findings, the researchers suggest that consuming more vegetables may reduce the risk of developing acute pancreatitis that is not associated to gallstones.

Written by Grace Rattue