The fight against breast cancer may begin in the kitchen. A new study suggests that women can dramatically reduce their risk of the disease by following a version of the Mediterranean diet that goes heavy on extra virgin olive oil.
Data from a large, randomized clinical trial show that women who did so were 62% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer compared with women who were simply asked to reduce the overall amount of fat in their diets. The results were published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. After tracking nearly 7,500 people for about five years, the researchers had compelling evidence that those who were on either type of Mediterranean diet had better heart health than their counterparts who weren’t. The trial was ended in 2010.
There are lots of reasons to think that extra virgin olive oil could be a potent cancer-fighter, the study authors wrote. It is rich in oleic acid, a substance that helped kill breast cancer cells in laboratory experiments. It’s also high in squalene, a compound that has antioxidant effects in breast cells.
Extra virgin olive oil also contains several polyphenols with pharmacologic effects. Among them, oleocanthal has been found to block the spread of breast cancer cells; oleuropein seems to induce breast cancer cells to self-destruct; hydroxytyrosol counteracts damageto breast cells caused by reactive oxygen species; and lignans have been associated with a reduced breast cancer risk.
The study is the first prospective randomized clinical trial to see whether a Mediterranean diet can offer women protection from breast cancer. But more trials are needed to get a better understanding of the link between the two, the researchers wrote.