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Mediterranean Diet May Lower Breast Cancer Risk

Postmenopausal women who consume a traditional Mediterranean diet may have a lower risk for breast cancer, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A traditional Mediterranean diet—one that is rich in fish, olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes and lower in red meat and dairy—has been associated with a lower rate of heart disease and cancer, including breast cancer. This recent study was the first to evaluate the purported benefits of the Mediterranean diet within a Mediterranean country—in this case, Greece.

Researchers followed approximately 15,000 women in Greece for almost 10 years. Participants’ diets were assessed by questionnaire, and a score ranging from 0 to 9 was given based on the extent to which the women followed a traditional Mediterranean diet. A higher score indicated greater adherence to the diet.  During this time, 240 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

  • Postmenopausal women with greater adherence to the diet (a score between 6 and 9) had a reduced risk of breast cancer of 22%.
  • Among premenopausal women, greater adherence to the diet was not associated with a lower risk for breast cancer.

The researchers concluded postmenopausal women who follow a traditional Mediterranean diet may have a decreased risk of breast cancer. There is a lower incidence of breast cancer in Mediterranean countries, which may be partially explained by the traditional diet.

Reference: Trichopoulou A, Bamia C, Lagiou P, et al.  Conformity to traditional Mediterranean diet and breast cancer risk in the Greek EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and nutrition) cohort. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.29619.