Mediterranean Diet Reduces Cancer Risk

In 2008, the British Journal of Cancer published a report linking the traditional Mediterranean diet “…with markedly and significantly reduced overall cancer….”

Researchers from the University of Athens, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the Harvard School of Public Health looked at 25,623 participants of the Greek portion of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and nutrition (the EPIC study).  Adherence to the Mediterranean diet was assessed with a food-frequency questionnaire.

Cancer developed in 851 participants over an average follow up of 7.9 years.  Non-melanoma skin cancers were not included since they are usually not serious or life-threatening.  The common cancers in men involved the lung, prostate, colon, and stomach.  For women, common cancers were breast, colon, ovary, and uterus.

Participants’ conformity to the Mediterranean diet was graded on a 10-point scale based on consumption of vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts, cereals, fish, meat and meat products, dairy products, ethanol (alcohol), and the monounsaturated to saturated lipid ratio.  A score of zero indicated minimal adherence; maximal adherence scored a nine.

Every two-point increase in adherence was associated with a 12% reduction in the incidence of overall cancer.  So those participants with greatest conformity to the traditional Mediterranean diet had a dramatically reduced incidence of cancer compared to those with minimal adherence.

The researchers cite three independent studies that found a similar association between the Mediterranean diet and cancer.  The study at hand was not sufficiently powered to determine reliably which specific cancers were reduced with the Mediterranean diet.  Other studies indicate that the reduced cancers are prostate, breast, colon, and uterus.

The researchers surmise that the cancer-reducing benefit of the Mediterranean diet relates to the whole diet rather than to individual components.

To move your way of eating in a Mediterranean direction, review the diet here.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Benetou, V., et al.  Conformity to traditional Mediterranean diet and cancer incidence: the Greek EPIC cohort.  British Journal of Cancer, 99 (2008): 191-195.

Comments are closed.