Diet and cancer: behind the headlines
Stories about diet and cancer risk dominate the headlines, but how much should we trust them? Research this week suggests that olive oil, and a Mediterranean diet can cut breast cancer risk. Yinka Ebo, Health Information Manager at the charity Breast Cancer Now - who weren't involved in the study - explained more about what the researchers found to Kat Arney.
Yinka - So, what the study found was that women who were eating a Mediterranean diet and supplemented with extra virgin olive oil - not just any olive oil but extra virgin olive oil - had a lower risk of developing a breast cancer. Over 60 per cent lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to the women who were just given dietary advice to decrease their fat intake.
Kat - A 60 per cent reduction in breast cancer risk. That sounds like a lot.
Yinka - So, we had over 4,000 women and they were followed for about 4.8 years. At the end of that, there were 35 cases of breast cancer.
Kat - That's not really a lot and that's a short length of time too.
Yinka - Exactly. When we're looking to understand the length between lifestyle and diet, and the risk of disease, we would want to see many more people included in those studies, hundreds of thousands and many more cases to be able to really tell if there's a true link between how we're living our lives and our risk of developing disease. So, this is a very, very small study. In the context of the wider research, other studies that have looked in this area in the past have been inconsistent. So, this study alone doesn't really tell us much about the links between diet and breast cancer risk.
Kat - Are there any things in the diet that we do know reduce the risk of breast cancer? There seem to be lots of stories in the media saying, this increases or decreases your risk of various types of cancer. Should we take these - apologies for the pun - with a pinch of salt?
Yinka - It's really tricky to try and pinpoint any individual nutrients to the risk of developing breast cancer. The way these studies are carried out, they will pull out a particular chemical or compound from that food. They will use normally, a very high dose of that compound and then they might see results in the lab in a Petri dish. We aren't Petri dishes. So to be able to pinpoint one particular "superfood" or nutrient to the risk of developing breast cancers or any cancer really is very, very difficult. In terms of breast cancer, there isn't really any clear evidence of any particular type of food that might increase your risk. There's some evidence around fat intake but reducing your fat intake anyway will help you in terms of other diseases as well.