Having a Mediterranean diet, rich in extra-virgin olive oil, fish, fruit and vegetables, has been proven to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
The study was conducted between 2003 and 2009 by a team of Spanish researchers and included 4,282 post-menopausal women (aged 60 to 80 years old). The subjects were at high risk of heart disease, but they had never suffered from malignant breast tumors.
They were divided into 3 diet groups, and two of these categories received one liter of extra-virgin olive oil per week, for themselves and their families.
More precisely, the first diet imposed by experts consisted in predominantly Mediterranean meals, rich in extra-virgin olive oil (the oil represented 15% of their daily calories), the second one was also Mediterranean, but rich in nuts (around 30 gram per day), while the third one consisted in reducing fat intake.
After approximately 5 years, 35 of the experiment participants had developed breast cancer.
It was established that women included in the first study group had the lowest likelihood of suffering from the disease. The higher the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil, the lower the risk of developing malignant breast tumors.
Through an increase of 5% in the number of calories of extra-virgin olive oil consumed per day, women were 28% less likely to become ill. A slight decrease in cancer incidence was also identified among those who had eaten nuts, but results were inconclusive.
According to Dr. Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, co-author of the study, adopting a Mediterranean diet allows people to include in their daily meals many elements believed to prevent tumor formation.
In particular, extra-virgin olive oil has a high concentration of polyphenols, which have been proven by lab research to ward off cancer. It’s unclear for now if oil lowers the risk on its own, or its protective benefits stem from mixing it with other elements of the diet.
“Although no diet is perfect, a Mediterranean diet [rich in]olive oil is likely good for your health”, declared Dr. Mitchell Katz, deputy editor of the “JAMA Internal Medicine journal, where the study was published today.
Previous studies have also emphasized the benefits of following a Mediterranean diet, which is low in dairy and meat products, but high in olive oil, nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables.
For instance, research published in May has shown that such dietary habits which are common in Spain, Greece and Italy may prevent age-related cognitive decline. Another study whose findings were presented in March proved that a Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of heart disease by 47%.
Other studies had been conducted to assess the link between eating habits and breast cancer, but they were hampered by the fact that researchers simply asked respondents to keep food diaries, whereas in this study certain guidelines were followed, which heightens the results’ accuracy.
On the other hand, there are limitations of this recent experiment, such as the uniformity of the subjects: they were all white, post-menopausal women, prone to cardiovascular disease.
Overall, however, experts still recommend that women who wish to stay in good health should avoid consuming red and processed meat, fast food, sweets and soda. Instead, as a preventative strategy for a variety of diseases, they should include more extra-virgin olive oil in their diets, as well as salads and fruit.
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