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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 21:24 EDT

New Study Shows Mediterranean Diet Cuts Cancer Risk

July 2, 2008

Scientists say that adopting just a couple of elements of the Mediterranean diet could cut the risks of developing cancer by 12%.

Just using more olive oil alone cuts the risk by 9%, according to a study of 26,000 Greeks. The diet also includes higher amounts of fruits, vegetables, cereals, and less red meat.

Men might cut their risk of prostate cancer by adding broccoli to meals, a separate study has found.

Spain and Greece have lower rates of illnesses like heart disease. The people living there generally eat more vegetables and fish, less red meat, cook in olive oil and drink moderate amounts of alcohol.

The latest study is one of the largest yet to look at the potential impact on cancer of the various parts of this diet.

Thousands of Greek people of various ages were persuaded by researchers from Harvard University to record their food intake over an eight-year-period.

Those who followed the Mediterranean diet more closely by eating less red meat and more peas, beans and lentils cut the risk of cancer by 12%. Those that just ate more “unsaturated” fats such as olive oil cut their risks by 9%.

Dr Dimitrios Trichopoulos, who led the study, said “Adjusting one’s overall dietary habits towards the traditional Mediterranean pattern had an important effect.”

The research highlighted the importance of a healthy balanced diet, according to Sara Hiom from Cancer Research UK.

“It shows there are a number of things you can do, and there is no one ‘superfood’ that can stop you developing the disease.”

The Institute of Food Research in Norwich conducted another study suggesting that food had the power to prevent cancer.

Scientists compared the effects of adding 400 grams of broccoli or peas a week to the diet of men at high risk of prostate cancer – and in the case of broccoli found differences in the activity of genes in the prostate which other studies have linked to cancer.

Their research raised the possibility that broccoli, or other “cruciferous” vegetables, could help prevent or slow down the disease.

Professor Richard Mithen, who led the research, published in the Public Library of Science journal, said “Eating two or three portions of cruciferous vegetables per week – and maybe a few more if you lack the GSTM1 gene – should be encouraged.”

The study was the first time in a properly controlled clinical trial that broccoli had been shown to change the expression of specific genes in the prostate gland, according to Professor Karol Sikora, medical director of CancerPartnersUK.

“Although the observation period was too short and the numbers too small to show that the incidence of cancer actually fell, it is the first clear demonstration that broccoli and presumably other cruciferous vegetables may well reduce cancer risk.”