Eating a Mediterranean diet could cut womb cancer risk
Women who eat a Mediterranean diet could cut their risk of womb cancer by more than half (57 per cent), according to a study published today (Wednesday) in the British Journal of Cancer*.
The Italian researchers looked at the diets of over 5,000 Italian women to see how closely they stuck to a Mediterranean diet and whether they went on to develop womb cancer**.
The team broke the Mediterranean diet down into nine different components and measured how closely women stuck to them. The diet includes eating lots of vegetables, fruits and nuts, pulses, cereals and potatoes, fish, monounsaturated fats but little meat, milk and other dairy products and moderate alcohol intake.
Researchers found that women who adhered to the Mediterranean diet most closely by eating between seven and nine of the beneficial food groups lowered their risk of womb cancer by more than half (57 per cent).
Those who stuck to six elements of the diet's components reduced their risk of womb cancer by 46 per cent and those who stuck to five reduced their risk by a third (34 per cent).
But those women whose diet included fewer than five of the components did not lower their risk of womb cancer significantly.
Dr Cristina Bosetti, lead author from the IRCCS-Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche, said: "Our research shows the impact a healthy balanced diet could have on a woman's risk of developing womb cancer. This adds more weight to our understanding of how our every day choices, like what we eat and how active we are, affect our risk of cancer."
The study was funded by the Italian Foundation for Cancer Research, the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss League Against Cancer.
Each year in the UK there are around 8,500 new cases of womb cancer, and rates have increased by around half since the early 1990s in Great Britain.
Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of health information, said: "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.
"Cancer risk is affected by our age and our genes but a healthy lifestyle can also play a part in reducing the risk of some cancers. Not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, being active, eating healthily and cutting down on alcohol helps to stack the odds in your favour."
We all want that summer glow that comes from a day at the beach, but taking in the rays can have long-term implications for our health. Now Dr. Niva Shapira of Tel Aviv University's School of Health Professions suggests a way to make fun in the sun safer — and it's all in our food.
In a study published in Nutrition Reviews, (August, 2010) Dr. Shapira has shown that a diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, like the diet eaten in Mediterranean regions where melanoma rates are extremely low, can help protect us from skin cancer.
The sun's rays damage both the skin and the immune system by penetrating the skin and causing photo-oxidation, she explains, affecting both the cells themselves and the body's ability to repair any damage. Her prescription is to "go Greek" with foods such as olive oil, fish, yogurt and colorful fruits and vegetables to fight the oxidizing effect of the sun, as well as regular applications of sunscreen and appropriate body coverings such as hats, beach coverups, and other sportswear.
Previous research demonstrated that the sun's UV rays damage the skin by exciting its molecules and causing them to become oxidized, says Dr. Shapira. "My theory was that if you prepared the body with sufficient and relevant antioxidants, damage could be reduced."
For a study at the Baltic Sea, Dr. Shapira and Prof. Bodo Kuklinski of Rostock University organized two groups. One group was provided a drink high in antioxidants, while the other enjoyed beverages such as sodas. Those who hydrated with the antioxidant-rich drink had fifty percent fewer oxidation products (i.e. MDA) in their blood at the end of the two-week period, which included five to six hours of exposure to the sun daily. Further studies proved that these antioxidants, especially carotenoids — fruit and vegetable pigments like red from tomatoes and watermelons and orange from carrots and pumpkins that accumulate in the skin where they serve as a first line of protection — had delayed the phenomenon of skin erythema, which indicates the initiation of tissue and DNA damage that can lead to skin cancer.
This information is invaluable, especially in light of climate change, notes Dr. Shapira. As temperature and humidity get stronger, which aggravates the damaging effect of solar UV rays, it is increasingly difficult for sunscreen alone to protect effectively. So while covering up, slathering on the sunscreen, and avoiding the sun during peak hours are still important to prevent a burn, consider dietary changes too, to promote skin health.
It might be tempting to load up on dietary supplements instead of changing the diet, but according to Dr. Shapira, supplements are simply not as effective. Foods provide nutrient "synergy," she says. "In foods, many vitamins and various antioxidants and bioactive ingredients work to support one another and the body's natural protective mechanisms. Synergies between the nutrients in your food, which make a significant contribution to health, may contrast with the relative isolation of a vitamin supplement."
The research is getting attention: for the first time, the Israeli Cancer Association has included the nutritional information as part of their "Smart in the Sun" advisories.
It's not necessary to move to Greece, Israel or Turkey to get the benefit of the diet. Most of the appropriate foods are stocked in American grocery stores. Olive oil, fresh fish, fruits and vegetables, red wine in moderation, whole grains, beans and lots of water should be at the top of the shopping list, Dr. Shapira advises.
And there are some foods to avoid, she points out. Go light on red meat, processed foods, and alcohol (red wine is preferable), and be wary of foods that contain the photosensitizing compound psoralen, such as parsley, celery, dill, cilantro and figs.
Mediterranean Diet Fights Cancer
A review was conducted of studies that met the following criteria: human cohort and case-control studies that examined the effect of the Mediterranean diet as an entire food pattern (the combined effect of individual components of the Mediterranean diet) and whose results were published in English. Out of the 12 reviewed studies (7 cohort and 5 case-control), 10 studies (6 cohort and 4 case-control) provided some evidence that the Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cancer incidence or mortality.
Although the reviewed studies varied according to certain study characteristics, such as being set in different populations and studying different cancer outcomes, the existing evidence from observational studies collectively suggests that there is a “probable” protective role of the Mediterranean diet toward cancer in general. Results were published in the article Association Between the Mediterranean Diet and Cancer Risk: A Review of Observational Studies (2010) in Nutrition and Cancer.