Mediterranean diet could reduce risk of endometrial cancer

27 May

The Mediterranean diet is often regarded as one of the healthiest diets around, and a newly published study adds further support to these claims. Researchers suggest that adhering closely to the diet can cut the risk of endometrial cancer in women by more than half.

Woman eating healthy Mediterranean food.
Meals based around fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and olive oil are typical of the Mediterranean diet.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, suggests that a combination of foods rich in antioxidants, fibers, phytochemicals and unsaturated fatty acids could have a favorable effect against the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs in the US.

“Our research shows the impact a healthy balanced diet could have on a woman’s risk of developing womb cancer,” states lead author Dr. Cristina Bosetti, from the IRCCS-Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche in Italy. “This adds more weight to our understanding of how our everyday choices, like what we eat and how active we are, affect our risk of cancer.”

There have been numerous studies conducted in recent months that indicate the healthful qualities of the Mediterranean diet. At the end of last year, studies were published linking adherence to the diet with a lower risk of chronic kidney disease and slower aging.

Earlier this month, Medical News Today also reported on one study suggesting that following a Mediterranean diet supplemented with additional portions of extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts could protect cognitive functioning in older adults.

Strict adherence to diet associated with reducing risk of endometrial cancer by 57%

For the study, researchers examined the diets of more than 5,000 women from various areas in Italy and the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland, obtaining data from three case-control studies conducted between 1983 and 2006. A total of 1,411 women had confirmed cases of endometrial cancer, and their diets were compared with 3,668 patients in hospital with acute diseases.

The researchers assessed how closely the women adhered to the Mediterranean diet by splitting the diet into nine different components and measuring how many of these the women regularly consumed:

  • High intake of vegetables
  • High intake of fruits and nuts
  • High intake of legumes
  • High intake of cereals and potatoes
  • High intake of fish
  • High intake of monounsaturated fats compared to saturated fatty acids
  • Moderate intake of alcohol
  • Low intake of meat
  • Low intake of dairy products.

They found that the women who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely, regularly consuming between seven and nine of these components, reduced their risk of endometrial cancer by 57%. Regularly eating six of the diet’s components reduced the risk by 46% and women eating five reduced their risk by 34%.

However, those whose diet featured fewer than five of the Mediterranean diet’s components did not reduce their risk of endometrial cancer in any significant way.

Dr. Julie Sharp, the head of health information for Cancer Research UK, states that further work needs to be done on account of the study’s limitations:

“While we know that getting older and being overweight both increase a woman’s risk of womb cancer, the idea that a Mediterranean diet could help reduce the risk needs more research. This is partly because this study was based on people remembering what they had eaten in the past.”

Despite this, the message that eating healthily can reduce the risk of cancer is one that Dr. Sharp supports. “Not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, being active, eating healthily and cutting down on alcohol helps to stack the odds in your favor,” she concludes.

In contrast, one study published at the start of the year suggests that an unhealthy life could increase the risk of endometrial cancer; researchers found that older women with metabolic syndrome might be at increased risk of the disease.