A new study suggests that the diet—which is heavy on fish, vegetables, fruit, and olive oil—could have preventative effects in survivors.

By Gillie Houston
Updated May 24, 2017
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The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet have previously been touted as a miracle antidote to a variety of health ailments, from heart attacks to strokes. Now, The Guardian reports on a new study which suggests the diet—heavy on fish, vegetables, fruit and olive oil—could have preventative effects when it comes to breast cancer, as well.

Presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, this trial study monitored the effect a Mediterranean diet had on 307 Italian breast cancer survivors. A hundred and ninety-nine women were prescribed an eating plan that included a daily intake of four portions of vegetables, one serving of grains, and three pieces of fruit, as well as four or more servings of fish each week, plenty of olive oil, some processed and red meat, and up to one alcoholic drink a day. The remaining participants were told to eat what they normally would, but were given healthful guidance by a dietician.

After three years, the cancer researchers at Piacenza hospital found that 11 women in the group who consumed a typical diet experienced a return of breast cancer, while the 199 eating in a Mediterranean style remained cancer-free.

This was a small study, but the scientists who conducted it are hopeful about its ramifications. "It is not clear whether there is a specific diet or foods to eat or not eat to prevent recurrence," says Erica Mayer, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and director of clinical research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. However, she adds that "the whole topic of lifestyle interventions for breast cancer survivors is a very important one."

Professor Arnie Purushotham, Cancer Research U.K.'s senior clinical adviser says that more time is needed to definitively say a Mediterranean diet is the defining factor in a breast cancer survivor's health: "We'd need a much longer follow up than three years to confirm the diet's impact." And while scientists are unanimous that this diet can't yet be called the defeater of cancer, it's always a good idea to consume a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats.