Women who love olive oil will be thrilled to hear about this new health benefit

At the front lines of the breast cancer battle?
At the front lines of the breast cancer battle?
Image: Reuters/Marcelo del Pozo
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Health nuts have yet another reason to fawn over the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. The regimen, rich in natural items such as plant-based foods, fish, and olive oil, is already known to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, and possibly cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Now it may also reduce the risk of breast cancer in women.

A team of researchers in Spain has linked food items in the Mediterranean diet, especially extra virgin olive oil, to a significant reduction in breast cancer risk. From 2003 to 2009, the researchers randomly assigned a control diet and several variations of the Mediterranean diet to 4,282 Spanish women around 67 years old, carefully tracking any new cases of malignant breast cancer.

On Sept. 14, they published their findings in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, revealing that women who were instructed to eat a Mediterranean diet heavy in extra virgin olive oil—researchers provided 1 liter per week of the oil to the women and their families—developed 68% fewer cases of breast cancer over the study period than a control group advised to eat a low-fat diet. Women who ate a Mediterranean diet but did not supplement it with extra virgin olive oil showed a relatively insignificant risk reduction, researchers found.

That all the women were in the same racial group (white) and the number of breast cancer cases overall (35) was low makes it difficult to draw strong conclusions, according to an editor’s note from JAMA Internal Medicine. But more research on the subject could create a solid link, for the first time, between a food ingredient and lower breast cancer risk.