A diet rich in vegetables could help stave off the development of the serious condition acute pancreatitis, suggests a large study published online in the journal Gut.
Pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas - the gland behind the stomach, which, among other things, releases digestive enzymes to break down food.
Occasionally these enzymes become active inside the pancreas, and start to digest the gland itself. In up to one in five of those with acute pancreatitis symptoms are severe and potentially life threatening.
Previous research suggests that excessive production of free radicals, which are by-products of cellular activity, is associated with acute pancreatitis. Furthermore, levels of antioxidant enzymes, which mop up free radicals, are increased during an attack.
The authors therefore wanted to know if an imbalance in antioxidant levels, associated with dietary factors, might make the pancreas more sensitive to the effects of free radicals and so increase the risk of acute pancreatitis.
They tracked the health of a population-based sample of 80,000 adults living in central Sweden for an average of 11 years, following the completion of a comprehensive dietary questionnaire in 1997 on how often they had eaten from a range of 96 food items over the preceding year.
Average vegetable and fruit consumption was around 2.5 and just under 2 servings, respectively, every day. In general, those who ate the fewest daily servings of vegetables were men, smokers, and those who had not gone on to higher education.
A similar profile was seen for fruit consumption, although people in this group were more likely to drink alcohol and to have diabetes.
During the monitoring period, 320 people developed acute pancreatitis that was not associated with the complications of gallstones - a relatively common cause of the condition.
The amount of fruit consumed did not seem to influence the risk of developing acute pancreatitis, but this was not the case for vegetables.