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The Mediterranean Diet: Lower Rates Of Cancer

Updated on October 26, 2009

Olive oil and the Mediterranean diet are also associated with lower rates of cancer. There are many explanations for why this might be so and it seems that a phytochemical called squalene may provide yet another explanation. Americans consume only about 30 mg of squalene a day. However because squalene is present in olive oil, albeit in small amounts, Mediterraneans often consume between 200 to 400 mg per day.

In animal experiments squalene has been effective in inhibiting colon, lung and skin cancers. It has been proposed that squalene achieves this anti-cancer effect by its anti-oxidant activity or by its effect on certain cancer promoting genes.

Olive oil contains approximately 0.2 - 0.7% squalene. It has been proposed that one way squalene mediates its anti-carcinogenic effect is by inhibition of Ras farnesylation.

This interesting compound from which cholesterol is made is not only found in olive oil, it can also be found in the livers of very deep sea fish and may help them survive in oxygen deprived environments. It has long been a traditional Eastern medicine, especially in Japan and Korea, and in the future we may find that it inhibits cancer development in humans.

Research studies have found that there are significantly lower rates of cancer in the Mediterranean region as compared with the US, the UK and Scandinavian countries. Most of this difference can be attributed to lower rates of colon, breast, uterine, and prostate cancer.

These four cancers have been linked to low consumption of fruits and vegetables and an excessive consumption of meat. The Mediterranean diet by contrast is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in the consumption of meat. Furthermore the olive oil consumed in the Mediterranean diet has, itself, been associated with lower rates of cancer.

The authors estimate that up to 25% of colon cancer, 15% of breast cancer and 10% of prostate, pancreas and uterine cancers could be prevented if Western Countries adopted the traditional healthy Mediterranean diet.

Esophageal cancer is a highly aggressive malignancy. Researchers studied the association between squamous cell esophageal cancer and different dietary patterns in three areas of northern Italy.

The researchers identified 304 cases of esophageal cancer and compared the diets of these individuals with the diets of 743 individuals with no history no history of this malignancy. They interviewed each individual documenting the intake of different kinds of foods, types of fat, and alcohol.

Consumption of pasta, rice, poultry, raw vegetables, and fruits were related to lower rates of espophageal cancer. Consumption of olive oil was also associated with lower rates of this malignancy, while butter was strongly associated with increased risk of esophageal cancer.

This was a case controlled study. The controls were hospitalized with acute non-neoplastic conditions not related to smoking, alcohol consumption or long term diet modification. They controlled for smoking, age, sex, education, area of residence, total calories and alcohol intake. A peculiar association was observed between esophageal cancer and soup consumption. One wonders whether this is related to repeated physical trauma of excessive heat.

This study suggests, once again, that the olive oil and the Mediterranean diet play an important role in the relatively lower rates of cancer in the Mediterranean region.

Continued In The Mediterranean Diet: Oral & Prostate Cancer Effects

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