Breast Cancer is one of the frequently diagnosed form of cancer and also one of the leading causes of death in women. Researchers have extensively researched diet as a modifiable factor in the development of breast cancer. However, there is inconsistency in the epidemiologic evidence on the effect of specific dietary factors.
An article recently published online by JAMA Medicine revealed that eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil was associated with a relatively lower risk of breast cancer in a study of women in Spain.
A Mediterranean diet is rich in plant food sources, fish and particularly olive oil. Miguel A. MartÃnez-GonzÃ¡lez, M.D., of the University of Navarra in Pamplona and CIBEROBN in Madrid, Spain, and coauthors analyzed the effects of two interventions with the Mediterranean diet- one supplemented with extra virgin olive oil [EVOO] or nuts, and compared it with advice to women to follow a low-fat diet. The study was conducted within the framework of the large PREDIMED (PrevenciÃ³n con Dieta MediterrÃ¡nea) trial, meant to test the effects of the Mediterranean diet on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.
The participants in the two intervention groups were given EVOO (one liter per week for the participants and their families) or mixed nuts (30 grams per day: 15 grams of walnuts, 7.5 grams of hazelnuts and 7.5 grams of almonds).
4282 women between the ages of 60 to 80 and those at high risk of cardiovascular disease were recruited between 2003 and 2009. One part of the recruited women (1476) was assigned Mediterranean diet supplemented with EVOO, another part's (1285) Mediterranean diet was supplemented with nuts and another part (1391) was advised control diet with advice to reduce their dietary intake of fat.
At the beginning of the study, it was noted that the average age of the women was 67.7 years, with an average body mass index of 30.4. It was also noted that most of them had undergone menopause before the age of 55 and less than 3 percent had opted for hormone therapy. When a median follow-up was carried out nearly five years later, the authors identified 35 confirmed new cases of malignant breast cancer.
It is reported by the authors that the women eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with EVOO showed a 68 percent (multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio of 0.32) relatively lower risk of malignant breast cancer than those asked to follow a control diet. Women eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts did not show much significant risk reduction compared with women in the control group.
However, there are a number of limitations of the study observed by the authors. They say that breast cancer was not the primary end point of the trial for which the women were recruited. Agreed, the number of observed breast cancer cases was low, however, the authors do not have information on an individual basis on whether and when women in the trial underwent mammography. Also, it cannot be established with confidence that the observed beneficial effect was attributable mainly to the EVOO or to its consumption within the context of the Mediterranean diet.
Still, in general it is known that consumption of a diet that is based on plant foods, fish and extra virgin olive oil, is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and is safe. That is why it is possible that Mediterranean diet may also prevent breast cancer.
The results of the PREDIMED study do suggest a beneficial effect of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with EVOO in the primary prevention of breast cancer. However it was also concluded by the authors that these results need confirmation by long-term studies with a higher number of incident cases.
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