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The Mediterranean Diet: Oral & Prostate Cancer Effects

Updated on October 26, 2009

Cancers of the mouth and upper throat (the pharynx) are associated, not surprisingly, with smoking. However a recent study suggests that these cancers are also associated with diet, and that the very specific and particular ingredients, elements, substances and cooking techniques which are traditionally associated with heritage Mediterranean diet practices can have a very significant effect on minimizing the occurrences of various oral and prostate cancers.

Italian researchers selected 512 men and 86 women with oral cancers and compared their dietary habits to 1008 men and 483 women who had no history of such cancers. The questionnaire they used included 78 foods or recipes and ten questions on fat consumption.

After adjustments for smoking and other factors, they found that eggs, butter, soups, processed meats, cakes and deserts were associated with increased risk for oral cancers. On the other hand, coffee, tea, bread, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits and olive oil were all associated with a lower risk.

It appears peculiar that soups and eggs were associated with higher risk. One wonders whether eggs were notable because they are more frequently prepared with butter and bacon and, in actuality, it is these foods that increase risk. This has been a common error in studying the health effects of eggs in the past. One might also hypothesis that the excessive heat from repeated soup consumption might somehow promote cancer. Other possibilities include the use of carcinogenic cookware or an unidentified high-risk ingredient in preparing soups.

Despite the peculiarities of this study much of it is consistent with what we already know: olive oil and the Mediterranean diet tend to reduce the risk of cancer.

It has been observed for some time that prostate cancer is related to diet. In a recent study conducted in Athens, Greece, researchers found that butter and other dairy products appeared to increase the risk of prostate cancer, while tomatoes were associated with decreased risk.

The researchers also found that polyunsaturated fats from corn, safflower, sunflower soybean and other seeds were also associated with increased rates of prostate cancer. Some have speculated that the tendency of these oil to oxidize, particularly when heated, predisposes to cancer promotion.

The researchers then calculated what would happen if all the study subjects adopted the dietary patterns of the lowest risk group. They found that the incidence of prostate cancer would have been reduced by 41% merely by eating in a manner more consistent with the traditional Mediterranean diet.

This was a case controlled study. For each subject a dietary score was calculated and categorized into quintiles representing increasing levels of prostate cancer as a function of the intake of five discriminatory food groups or items. If all individuals were shifted to the baseline category the incidence of prostate cancer in this population would be reduced by 41%.

The bottom line is that many cases of prostate cancer could be prevented merely by minimizing butter and seed oils (and probably meat as other studies suggest), and consuming more olive oil and vegetables: especially tomatoes (also broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables as still other studies suggest).


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