Diet can have a major impact on health, especially when it comes to the health consequences of obesity. However, scientists have now found a positive way people could affect their health through their diet, with the discovery that a Mediterranean diet including olive oil may lower the risk of breast cancer.
Dr. Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez of the University of Navarra in Pamplona and Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de la Fisiopatología de la Obesidad y Nutrición (CIBEROBN) in Madrid and a research team aimed to analyze the effect of different Mediterranean diets on health, and published their results in the online journal JAMA Internal Medicine. They looked at people participating in the Prevención con Diet Mediterra?nea (PREDIMED) study which was already looking at the effect of diet on the risk for cardiovascular disease. The 4,282 participants all lived in Spain and were aged 60-80. Although they were free of cardiovascular disease as they entered the study, they had either type 2 diabetes or three or more other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like hypertension, high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol, low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) “good” cholesterol, a history of smoking, obesity or high weight, and a family history of coronary heart disease.
For the study, the participants consumed one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet that included extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet that included nuts, or a doctor-prescribed low-fat diet. The participants stuck to their diet for five years, then researchers assessed the results on their health.
Of the group, thirty-five women in the study developed breast cancer during that time. However, they were not distributed evenly throughout the different diet groups. The low-fat diet participants showed the highest incidence of breast cancer, followed by a slightly lower incidence in the Mediterranean diet with nuts group. However, the researchers found that the group who ate the Mediterranean diet with olive oil had a 62 percent lower chance of developing malignant breast cancer.
It can be difficult for researchers to determine the effect of a particular food on health, since that food is part of an overall diet and lifestyle. However, this study seems to suggest that consuming olive oil had a positive effect on the participants, reducing their breast cancer risk.
There were some limitations with the study, the researchers admit. The study involved only a subset of the population, namely Spanish women who had a risk of cardiovascular disease, who were older, and who were white. There was also a small sample size, with only thirty-five of the participants developing breast cancer during the study. The authors call for a larger study into the potential benefits of a Mediterranean diet with olive oil on breast health.
Although the study did have limitations, the results are encouraging. Olive oil does seem to have the effect of reducing the chance of developing breast cancer. Other studies have already touted the benefits of a Mediterranean diet and olive oil on health issues like heart disease, metabolic syndrome, inflammation, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional diet of countries around the Mediterranean sea, including Greece, Spain, and the South of Italy. It includes eating mainly plants, including fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains; using olive oil instead of butter; using herbs and spices instead of salt to enhance flavor; eating fish and poultry at least twice a week; eating red meat no more than a few times per month; and, optionally, drinking red wine in moderation. To get the most of the diet, participants are encouraged to be physically active.
For those with a family history or other risk factors for developing breast cancer, the news that a Mediterranean diet with olive oil could help decrease their breast cancer risk is encouraging. If further studies support the evidence, modifying their diet could help women reduce their risk of future breast cancer.