Can Mediterranean Diet Lower Breast Cancer Risk?

July 31, 2011 2 min read

Women who follow a traditional Mediterranean diet may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer after menopause than women with different eating habits, a new study suggests. Researchers found that among 14,800 Greek women followed for a decade, those who kept most closely to the region's traditional diet were less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those whose eating habits were least Mediterranean-like.

The link was seen only among women who were past menopause, and not younger women. Among postmenopausal women, those with the highest Mediterranean diet "scores" were 22 percent less likely to develop breast cancer during the study than those with the lowest scores. The findings, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, do not prove that the diet itself offers protection against breast cancer. If such a link is proven in future studies, however, the authors estimate that if all women in their study population had closely adhered to a traditional Mediterranean diet, about 10 percent of the 127 postmenopausal breast cancers in the group would have been avoided.

Despite the preliminary nature of the findings, they add to research tying the traditional Mediterranean diet to lower risks of heart disease and certain cancers, such as cancers of the colon and stomach. In general, the Mediterranean diet is rich in fish, olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and relatively low in red meat and dairy. Researchers have long speculated that the diet may help explain why nations in the Mediterranean region have historically had lower rates of heart disease and some cancers, including breast cancer, compared with other European countries and the U.S. Other benefits of mediterranean diet noted were a decrease in menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.