Previous research shows the Mediterranean diet offers protection against heart disease, various forms of cancer, obesity, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Additional studies suggest that olive oil, an important component of the diet, may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Now research reports that following the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk breast cancer in postmenopausal women. This is the first study conducted in a Mediterranean region, focusing on women in Greece, to evaluate the association of the Mediterranean diet with breast cancer. The traditional Greek Mediterranean diet features foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, fish and legumes, and is low in dairy and red meat.
This study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the association between the Mediterranean diet and breast cancer. Researchers at the WHO Collaborating Center for Food and Nutrition Policies in Athens, Greece and the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed 14,807 Greek women participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). The participants were followed for an average of 9.8 years. Dietary questionnaires were obtained from the participants. The participants’ diets were rated from 0 to 9 based on the level of conformity to the traditional Mediterranean diet.
The researchers found that 240 women were diagnosed with breast cancer over the 10 year follow-up. Postmenopausal women with Mediterranean diet scores ranging from 6 to 9 had a 22 percent reduced breast cancer risk, compared to participants with scores from 0 to 3. However, this benefit was not seen in younger women.
The Main Point
“Conformity to the traditional Mediterranean diet may be associated with lower breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women and could explain, in part, the lower incidence of this disease in Mediterranean countries,” the study authors conclude.
This study is significant because it suggests that following the Mediterranean diet may offer protection against breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
Trichopoulou A et al. Conformity to traditional Mediterranean diet and breast cancer risk in the Greek EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Sep;92(3):620-5. Epub 2010 Jul 14.
Gavalas, Elaine. Secrets of Fat-Free Greek Cooking. Penguin Putnam Avery. elainegavalas.com.