The data, from a large-scale prospective study, investigated the association between nut consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer in more than 75,000 women who took part in the Nurses' Health Study, and had no previous history of cancer.
"Frequent nut consumption is inversely associated with risk of pancreatic cancer in this large prospective cohort of women, independent of other potential risk factors for pancreatic cancer," explained the research team - led by Dr Ying Bao of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
The body uses selenium to make "selenoproteins", which work like antioxidants preventing damage to cells. There is a growing body of evidence to show it has a key role in health.
Bao and colleagues found that women who consumed a one-ounce serving of nuts two or more times per week had a 35% lower risk of pancreatic cancer when compared to those who largely abstained from nuts.
"This reduction in risk was independent of established or suspected risk factors for pancreatic cancer including age, height, obesity, physical activity, smoking, diabetes and dietary factors," said Bao.
"Selenium levels in our blood plummeted after the time the government began measuring them in 1974," says Margaret Rayman, professor of nutritional medicine at the University of Surrey and a leading researcher in selenium’s effects.
"They stabilised at this sub-optimal level in the mid-Nineties as our diets haven’t changed much since."
The problem is compounded by the fact that we import less foods from selenium-rich soils than ever before.
Soil in the U.S. has higher levels of selenium due both to different geological conditions and the fact that it’s generally more alkaline, allowing better uptake of nutrients by plants.
Earlier this year, in a paper published in The Lancet, she detailed selenium’s links to everything from enhanced fertility and thyroid function to preventing plaque build-up in the arteries, regulating blood pressure and reducing cancer risk.
Bao and colleagues analysed data from 75,680 women in the Nurses' Health Study, and examined the association between nut consumption and pancreatic cancer risk. Nut consumption was assessed at baseline and updated every 2 to 4 years.
During the follow up, the team documented 466 incident cases of pancreatic cancer.
After adjusting for age, height, smoking, physical activity, and total energy intake, women who consumed a 28-g (1oz) serving size of nuts twice per week experienced a significantly lower risk of pancreatic cancer, said Bao and colleagues - noting a relative risk of 0.65 compared to those who did not eat nuts.
"The results did not appreciably change after further adjustment for body mass index (BMI) and history of diabetes mellitus," the team added - noting that the inverse association persisted within strata defined by BMI, physical activity, smoking, and intakes of red meat, fruits, and vegetables.
British Journal of Cancer
Karen Foster is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the healthiest path towards a life of balance.