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Tapping Into What Greek Women Know About Diet

Tapping Into What Greek Women Know About DietFollowing a diet rich in fish, olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and low in red meat and dairy may offer protection against breast cancer, researchers state in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study also notes that postmenopausal women benefit most from sticking to this traditional Mediterranean diet.

Researchers followed almost 15,000 Greek women for a decade and found that postmenopausal women with greater adherence to the region’s conventional diet had a 22% reduced risk of breast cancer. The link between the diet and reduced risk was only observed among women who were past menopause, however. The researchers suggest this is because most younger women who develop breast cancer tend to have a genetic predisposition to the disease, whereas in older women, lifestyle and environmental factors may be more important contributors to risk.

Though the findings do not prove that the diet itself offers protection against breast cancer, there are several reasons that it can be breast cancer protective. The typical Mediterranean diet is characterized by a wide variety of fresh plant foods that can provide many cancer-fighting compounds and lacks many of the processed foods filled with sugar, bleached flour, and refined vegetable oils found in modern western diets.

Past studies have shown that women who follow the diet tend to have lower levels of estrogen which fuels the growth of the majority of breast cancers. Laboratory cell studies show that fats in the Mediterranean diet – olive oil and omega-3 fats in fish – may slow the growth of cancer cells. The diet is also rich in flavonoids which have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect body cells from damage that can lead to disease, including cancer.

“The findings show an association between Mediterranean eating and lower breast cancer risk, but do not prove cause-and-effect,” said Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, a senior researcher with the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. “Further studies are needed to confirm the results.”


Excerpts and further information in Psychology Today and Reuters.

Read the study at the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

September 24, 2010