A study for the World Cancer Research Fund suggests that following a Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of contract a certain type of breast cancer by up to 40 per cent.
The Mediterranean diet, which consists of large amounts of fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables and olive oil, has gained a lot of praise for its health benefits, which include reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes.
The study was published in the International Journal of Cancer and suggests that that a Mediterranean diet can massively reduce the likelihood of women getting oestrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer. This kind of cancer is a form that affects postmenopausal women and cannot be treated with hormone therapy. The study’s lead researcher, Prof Piet van den Brandt of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, said: “Our research can help to shine a light on how dietary patterns can affect our cancer risk.
“We found a strong link between the Mediterranean diet and reduced oestrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women, even in a non-Mediterranean population. This type of breast cancer usually has a worse prognosis than other types of breast cancer.”
The researchers examined 62,573 women aged 55 to 69 over two decades, and were all participants in the Netherlands Cohort Study examining diet and cancer, which began in 1986. Their food intake was monitored to see how closely it followed Mediterranean diet.
Typically, the Mediterranean diet also includes a moderate consumption of alcohol, but since this is a risk factor in the development of cancer it was excluded from the study.
From the women involved in the studies, 3,354 contracted breast cancer, but 1,033 of the cases were not included in the due to a history of breast cancer or inadequate data. The analysis also included results of each food individually and found that nut intake was most likely to cut the risk of developing the cancer, with fruit and fish in second and third respectively. The research concluded that if correctly followed, and with causality implied, the Mediterranean diet can remove around a 32 per cent of these breast cancer cases and 2.3 per cent of all breast cancer cases could be avoided.
Dr Panagiota Mitrou, director of research funding at the World Cancer Research Fund, said it was an important study. “With breast cancer being so common in the UK, prevention is key if we want to see a decrease in the number of women developing the disease,” he said. “We would welcome further research that helps us better understand the risk factors for the different breast cancer subtypes.”
The research was described as “intriguing” by Emma Pennery, clinical director at Breast Cancer Care.
She said: “We know how devastating a diagnosis is and this study adds to evidence that a healthy diet, full of ‘good’ low-saturated fats, plays a part in lowering risk of the disease. “However, it’s important to remember while lifestyle choices like eating a well-balanced diet and taking regular exercise can help reduce the risk of cancer, they don’t guarantee prevention. So it’s crucial women know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and contact their GP with any concerns.”
The Mediterranean diet is already recommended to those with heart disease, and Public Health England has said the Mediterranean diet is similar to the official UK advice, which recommends cutting back on sugary, fatty and salty food and drinks.