In 2011, Couto et al., (2011) published a study involving ten European countries, designed to assess the effect of a Mediterranean diet on overall cancer risk. The study included 142,605 men of which 9669 developed cancer and 335,873 women of which 21,062 developed cancer. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet which included nine food groups was assessed using the Mediterranean diet score, first proposed by Trichopoulou in 1995. A high score reflects higher adherence which subsequently correlated with a reduction of cancer. Participants with higher scores tended to have higher education, be more physically active, and were never or were former cigarette smokers. In addition, adherence to the Mediterranean diet also was shown to be protective among current cigarette smokers, especially in regards to cancers associated with tobacco use. Fortes et al., 2003 also demonstrated a Mediterranean diet lowered the risk of developing lung cancer among cigarette smokers (1).
Most nutritional studies attempt to identify and analyze the effect of a single or specific dietary component on health. This study did not reveal any predominant effect of a single or specific component which supports the hypothesis that the benefit is derived from a synergistic or combined effect. This was demonstrated by the analysis of the Greek cohort which showed that moderate alcohol intake, low meat, high fruit/vegetable/nut, olive oil, and legumes were the most important dietary components contributing to the beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet on Greek participants (1).
Sofi et al., (2008) published a meta-analysis to review all prospective studies analyzing the relation between the Mediterranean diet and mortality and incidence of chronic disease. 12 studies were included from 1966-2008 and involved over a million and a half subjects who were followed for three-18 years. Their analysis provides evidence supporting the hypothesis that diet and nutrition are not only correlated with the disease but can be protective in decreasing risk. Their findings reveal adherence to the Mediterranean diet was significantly associated with decreased risk of overall mortality (9%), cardiovascular mortality (9%), the incidence of cancer (6%), the mortality of cancer (6%), and incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease (13%). Despite the positive findings of this study and the previously cited study, Sofi et al., 2008 point out that studies from the 1970s report the beneficial health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and that all major scientific associations encourage people to modify their diets to a Mediterranean diet to reduce risk of disease. Unfortunately, there is data that suggest even countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea are shifting to a non-Mediterranean diet (2). If this dietary shift is towards a more western type diet then what are the potential effects of such a shift?
Meyerhardt, et al., (2007) assessed dietary patterns and the recurrence and mortality of people with stage three colon cancer who were followed for a mean of 5.3 years. The study included 1009 participants who were enrolled in a surgical-adjuvant chemotherapy study. Akin to the aforementioned studies, this study also had patients report diet patterns using a semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire that included 131 different food items, vitamins, minerals, etc. The study revealed two major distinctive patterns which they termed Western Diet and Prudent Diet. Their findings show the Western dietary pattern was significantly associated with a decrease of disease-free survival and increased risk of recurrence and mortality due to cancer. On the other hand, the Prudent dietary pattern was not associated with cancer recurrence or mortality however similar to the demographic associated reported by Couto (2011), the Prudent diet was associated with people who were more physically active, lower body mass index, and less likely to smoke (3).
Author Devin Wilson ND, CCT
As an integrative doctor, I utilize all appropriate treatment tools in managing my patients. Using the therapeutic order as a guide for naturopathic treatment stratification, we find that removing obstacles to cure and dietary modifications are pillars of a comprehensive plan. Contemporary society and modern science alike have witnessed the effects of the western diet such as obesity and type two diabetes epidemics, but can diet have an additional effect on health and diseases.
- Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A. (2008). Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and health status: a meta-analysis. British Medical Journal. 2008 Sep 11;337:a1344. DOI: 10.1136
- Meyerhardt JA, Niedzwiecki D, et al. (2007). Association of dietary patterns with cancer recurrence and survival in patients with stage II colon cancer. JAMA. 2007 Aug 15;298(7):754-64.
- Couto E, Boffetta P, et, al. (2011). Mediterranean dietary pattern and cancer risk in the EPIC cohort. British Journal of Cancer. 2011 April 26; 104(9): 1493–1499.
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