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Mediterranean Diet is Healthy Eating – A Good Option for Seniors Once again the Mediterranean diet is linked to health benefits - this time a 40% lower incidence of certain types of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Following a Mediterranean style diet has been linked in earlier studies to various health benefits, such as lower rates of heart disease, lower rates of early death, and certain cancers.

A strength of this study is that so many (62,573) Dutch postmenopausal women were followed for a long time (about 20 years). Their diet was analyzed, especially how closely it matched the Mediterranean diet or not. Since alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer, and dose-related - it was not included as part of the Mediterranean diet in this study. The study found that following a Mediterranean diet with higher consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, appeared to be protective against certain breast cancers - it was associated with a reduced risk of estrogen receptor–negative (ER-) breast cancers. Unfortunately the researchers did not look at olive oil use in this study, because when it started in 1986, it was not typically used in the Netherlands. However, another good study found extra virgin olive oil to be a protective part (against breast cancer) of the Mediterranean diet. From Medscape:

Mediterranean Diet Cuts Some Breast Cancer Risk by 40%

Closely following a Mediterranean diet in everyday life may significantly reduce the risk for types of breast cancer that are associated with poorer prognoses in postmenopausal women, new research indicates. The traditional Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high intake of plant proteins, whole grains, fish, and monounsaturated fat, as well as moderate alcohol intake and low intake of refined grains, red meat, and sweets, say the study authors, led by Piet A. van den Brandt, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

The new findings come from 62,573 Dutch women aged 55 to 69 years who provided information on dietary and lifestyle habits in 1986 and have since been followed for more than 20 years....The investigators found that women who most closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet had a 40% reduced risk for estrogen receptor–negative (ER-) breast cancer compared to women who adhered to the diet the least. They found a 39% reduced risk for progesterone receptor–negative (PR-)/ER- disease when comparing these same high- and low-adherence groups. Notably, in these results, the definition of the diet excluded alcohol intake, because the consumption of alcohol is a known risk factor for breast cancer....The authors also report that there were no significant associations with the diet and the risk of ER+ disease or total breast cancer.

Dr van den Brandt also explained that older women, who were the subjects of the new study, are more likely to derive benefit than younger women. "Generally speaking, postmenopausal breast cancer seems somewhat more influenced by environmental factors, such as lifestyle and diet, than premenopausal breast cancer, where genetic factors seem to play a more prominent role," he told Medscape Medical News.

Dr Toledo was the senior author of the only large, randomized trial to date in which postmenopausal women were assigned to a dietary intervention to promote their adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet (JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175:1752–60). The study found that women with a higher adherence to the diet (supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil) showed a substantial reduction of their risk for breast cancer compared to a control group, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

Mediterranean Diet is Healthy Eating – A Good Option for Seniors One of the dreaded afflictions of getting older is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years and older. It has no cure. Thus this study finding that eating a Mediterranean diet, and especially lots of fruit, was associated with a lower risk of macular degeneration was welcome news. They also found a protective effect from drinking caffeinated beverages - about 78 mg of caffeine per day (about one cup of coffee or one shot of espresso). A Mediterranean diet stresses eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish, seeds, and olive oil. From Science Daily:

Fruit-rich Mediterranean diet with antioxidants may cut age-related macular degeneration risk by more than a third

People who closely follow the Mediterranean diet -- especially by eating fruit -- may be more than a third less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness, according to a study presented at AAO 2016, the 120th annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The study is the first to identify that caffeine may be especially protective against AMD.

Many studies have confirmed the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, healthy fats and fish, and limiting red meat and butter. The diet has been shown to improve heart health and reduced risk of cancer, but there has been little research on whether its benefits can extend to eye disease. To determine this, researchers studied a Portuguese population to see whether adherence to the diet impacted people's risk of AMD. Their findings revealed a significant reduction in risk in those who ate a Mediterranean diet most frequently, and particularly among those who consumed more fruit and caffeine.

Researchers at the University of Coimbra in Portugal studied 883 people age 55 or older in the central region of the country between 2013 and 2015. Of those, 449 had AMD in its early stages before vision loss, and 434 did not have AMD. Researchers assessed their diets based on a questionnaire asking how often they ate foods associated with the Mediterranean diet. The more they ate foods associated with the diet, the higher the score, from 0-9. Those who closely followed the diet scored a 6 or greater. Their findings were as follows:

Higher diet adherence scores meant lower AMD risk Of those who did not closely follow the diet (scored below a 6), 50 percent had AMD. Of those who did closely follow the diet (scored 6 or above), only 39 percent had AMD. This represents a 35 percent lower risk compared to those who did not adhere to the diet.

Fruits were especially beneficial Researchers analyzed consumption of foods and found that people who consumed higher levels of fruit were significantly less likely to have AMD. Of those who consumed 150 grams (about five ounces) or more of fruit a day: 54.5 percent did not have AMD and 45.5 percent had AMD. Overall, people who ate that much fruit or more each day were almost 15 percent less likely to have AMD, based on an odds ratio calculation.

Caffeine and antioxidants also were protective Researchers used a computer program to analyze the participants' consumption of micronutrients, according to their answers on the questionnaire. They found higher consumption of antioxidants such as caffeine, beta-carotene and vitamins C and E was protective against AMD. Of those who consumed high levels of caffeine (about 78 mg a day, or the equivalent of one shot of espresso): 54.4 percent did not have AMD and 45.1 percent had AMD....The researchers opted to look at caffeine because it is a powerful antioxidant that is known to be protective against other conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease.

  Again, another study showing the importance of lifestyle factors in the development of protein buildups in the brain that are associated with the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, the study found that each one of several lifestyle factors—a healthy body mass index, physical activity and a Mediterranean diet, were linked to lower levels of plaques and tangles on brain scans in people who already had mild memory changes, (but not dementia). Other posts discussing Mediterranean diet and brain health (brain volume, etc.) are here, here, and here. Activity levels and brain health posts are here, here, and here. From Medical Xpress:

Diet and exercise can reduce protein build-ups linked to Alzheimer's

A study by researchers at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior has found that a healthy diet, regular physical activity and a normal body mass index can reduce the incidence of protein build-ups that are associated with the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

In the study, 44 adults ranging in age from 40 to 85 (mean age: 62.6) with mild memory changes but no dementia underwent an experimental type of PET scan to measure the level of plaque and tangles in the brain. Researchers also collected information on participants' body mass index, levels of physical activity, diet and other lifestyle factors. Plaque, deposits of a toxic protein called beta-amyloid in the spaces between nerve cells in the brain; and tangles, knotted threads of the tau protein found within brain cells, are considered the key indicators of Alzheimer's.

The study found that each one of several lifestyle factors—a healthy body mass index, physical activity and a Mediterranean diet—were linked to lower levels of plaques and tangles on the brain scans. (The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals and fish and low in meat and dairy, and characterized by a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats, and mild to moderate alcohol consumption.)

"The fact that we could detect this influence of lifestyle at a molecular level before the beginning of serious memory problems surprised us," said Dr. David Merrill, the lead author of the study, which appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Earlier studies have linked a healthy lifestyle to delays in the onset of Alzheimer's. However, the new study is the first to demonstrate how lifestyle factors directly influence abnormal proteins in people with subtle memory loss who have not yet been diagnosed with dementia, Merrill said. Healthy lifestyle factors also have been shown to be related to reduced shrinking of the brain and lower rates of atrophy in people with Alzheimer's."The study reinforces the importance of living a healthy life to prevent Alzheimer's, even before the development of clinically significant dementia," Merrill said. 

Mediterranean Diet is Healthy Eating – A Good Option for Seniors Another study providing evidence that the Mediterranean diet is good for the brain. In elderly dementia-free adults (mean age 80 years) - those that generally followed a Mediterranean diet (higher adherence) had a larger brain volume than those not following the Mediterranean diet, as well as more total gray and white matter volume.The difference between the groups is equal to about 5 years of aging.

Having "higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet" in the study meant higher consumption of healthy foods or lower consumption of unhealthy foods. The Mediterranean diet stresses a  high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, fish, olive oil, and low intake of saturated fatty acids, dairy products, meat, and poultry; and mild to moderate amounts of alcohol. Specifically: Higher fish intake (at least 3 to 5 oz. weekly) and lower meat intake (no more than 3.5 oz. daily) correlated with greater total gray matter volume. Higher fish intake was also associated with "greater mean cortical thickness". From Medical Xpress:

Mediterranean diet may keep your mind healthier in old age

In news that sounds a bit like it came straight from a sci-fi thriller, researchers say that eating too much meat might shrink your brain. On the flip sid e, however, eating healthy foods from the so-called Mediterranean diet may help your brain stay in good shape as you get older, the new study suggests. The researchers said that people over 65 who ate more fish, vegetables, fruit, grains and olive oil had a larger brain volume than a similar group who didn't follow a Mediterranean diet.

"It was encouraging to see that the more you adhere to this Mediterranean diet, the more protection you get against brain atrophy [shrinkage]," said study author Yian Gu, an assistant professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University in New York City. .... But Gu noted that her study's observational findings cannot prove a definitive cause-and-effect relationship between diet and brain volume. The study was only designed to find an association.

Previous research has linked the Mediterranean diet to a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease, the study said. The diet stresses the consumption of vegetables, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), fruits, cereals, fish and monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, the study authors said. The eating plan also includes a low intake of meat, poultry, saturated fats and dairy products, as well as mild to moderate amounts of alcohol, according to the researchers.

For the study, Gu and her colleagues split 674 adults into two groups based on how closely their diets aligned with the Mediterranean diet. Their average age was 80 years. All participants underwent MRI scans of their brains to measure total brain volume and thickness. They also completed questionnaires about their food choices and eating patterns.

The researchers found that brain volumes of those who didn't follow a Mediterranean diet were smaller than those who did. The difference was minor in overall size—equated to about five years of aging, the study authors said. But, more specifically, the investigators found that eating more fish and less meat was associated with even less brain shrinkage. Using the study findings, Gu contended that eating at least 3 to 5 ounces of fish weekly, or no more than 3.5 ounces of meat each day, could protect the brain from shrinkage. She acknowledged that study participants may have inaccurately recalled their food consumption habits in the questionnaires used.

 People have asked me if eating sweet desserts or hamburgers is bad for the health if the rest of their diet is good - with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), and nuts (much like the Mediterranean diet). My sense over the past few years of looking at the research is that one should look at the overall diet, and that a "perfect diet" all the time is pretty darn hard to achieve, if not impossible, for most of us. So this new research looking at gut bacteria and "chemical fingerprints of cellular processes" (by looking at stool and urine samples) of people eating different diets (vegan, vegetarian, omnivore) was reassuring.  The findings suggest: make sure to feed your beneficial bacteria with a healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet (lots of plant-based foods), and then some deviation (cookies! steak!) is OK.

The researchers found that while the kind of gut bacteria dominating were different among the groups (vegan, vegetarian, omnivores), they also found that eating a lot of fiber-rich foods, such as fruit, vegetables, and legumes (typical of a Mediterranean diet) is linked to a rise in health promoting short chain fatty acids (SCFA). Yes, levels of trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) (which is linked to cardiovascular disease) were significantly lower in vegetarians and vegans than they were in those of the omnivores. But the more omnivores closely followed a Mediterranean diet, the lower were their TMAO levels.(Which is great!). As the researchers said: "Western omnivore diets are not necessarily detrimental when a certain consumption level of plant foods is included. From Science Daily:

High dietary fiber intake linked to health promoting short chain fatty acids

Eating a lot of fibre-rich foods, such as fruit, vegetables, and legumes--typical of a Mediterranean diet--is linked to a rise in health promoting short chain fatty acids, finds research published online in the journal Gut. And you don't have to be a vegetarian or a vegan to reap the benefits, the findings suggest.

Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which include acetate, propionate, and butyrate, are produced by bacteria in the gut during fermentation of insoluble fibre from dietary plant matter. SCFAs have been linked to health promoting effects, including a reduced risk of inflammatory diseases, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

The researchers gathered a week's information on the typical daily diet of 153 adults who either ate everything (omnivores, 51), or were vegetarians (51), or vegans (51), and living in four geographically distant cities in Italy....The Mediterranean diet is characterised by high intake of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and cereals; moderately high intake of fish; regular but moderate alcohol consumption; and low intake of saturated fat, red meat, and dairy products. Most (88%) of the vegans, almost two thirds of the vegetarians (65%), and around a third (30%) of the omnivores consistently ate a predominantly Mediterranean diet.

The investigation showed distinct patterns of microbial colonisation according to usual dietary intake. Bacteroidetes were more abundant in the stool samples of those who ate a predominantly plant based diet, while Firmicutes were more abundant in those who ate a predominantly animal products diet. Both these categories of organisms (phyla) contain microbial species that can break down complex carbohydrates, resulting in the production of SCFAs.

Specifically, Prevotella and Lachnospira were more common among the vegetarians and vegans while Streptococcus was more common among the omnivores. And higher levels of SCFA were found in vegans, vegetarians, and those who consistently followed a Mediterranean dietLevels of SCFAs were also strongly associated with the quantity of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and fibre habitually consumed, irrespective of the type of diet normally eaten.

On the other hand, levels of trimethylamine oxide (TMAO)--a compound that has been linked to cardiovascular disease--were significantly lower in the urine samples of vegetarians and vegans than they were in those of the omnivores. But the more omnivores closely followed a Mediterranean diet, the lower were their TMAO levels, the analysis showed.

TMAO levels were linked to the prevalence of microbes associated with the intake of animal proteins and fat, including L-Ruminococcus (from the Lachnospiraceae family). Eggs, beef, pork and fish are the primary sources of carnitine and choline--compounds that are converted by gut microbes into trimethylamine, which is then processed by the liver and released into the circulation as TMAO.

The researchers point out that SCFA levels can naturally vary as a result of age and gender, and their study did not set out to establish any causal links. But they nevertheless suggest that the Mediterranean diet does seem to be associated with the production of health promoting SCFAs. They conclude: "We provide here tangible evidence of the impact of a healthy diet and a Mediterranean dietary pattern on gut microbiota and on the beneficial regulation of microbial metabolism towards health maintenance in the host." And they add: "Western omnivore diets are not necessarily detrimental when a certain consumption level of [plant] foods is included."

  Over and over studies find that a person's diet is linked to health and diseases, and now a study finds that an unhealthy diet is linked to shrinkage of the brain, specifically the volume of the left hippocampus. The biggest effects on the hippocampus are found with both greater consumption of an unhealthy diet and lower consumption of a healthy diet.  The hippocampus is a brain structure associated with both learning and memory, as well as mood regulation, and is specifically implicated in depression. In dementia and Alzheimer's disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage.

So....you want to protect your hippocampus from shrinkage. The researchers themselves  suggest that the effects may be reversible, and suggest "dietary interventions to promote hippocampal health". Once again, a healthy diet means lots of plant-based foods (for example, a Mediterranean based diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, berries, seeds), and decreasing a Western-style diet with highly processed foods, low fiber, lots of meat, fat,  and refined sugars. From Medscape:

Unhealthy Diet May Shrink the Brain

Consumption of an unhealthy Western diet characterized by meat, hamburgers, chips, and soft drinks, may reduce the volume of the left hippocampus, whereas a healthy diet of fresh vegetables and fish may increase hippocampal volume. In a study of more than 250 individuals, investigators found that during a period of 4 years, there was a difference of more than 200 cubic millimeters in hippocampal volume between individuals who ate a healthy diet and those who consumed an unhealthy diet.

"These findings suggest the potential for dietary interventions to promote hippocampal health, decrease age-related atrophy, and prevent negative health outcomes associated with hippocampal atrophy," they add. Previous studies have shown that quality of diet is associated with depression and cognitive health. Animal research indicates that this may be mediated by changes in the hippocampus. Specifically, a high-fat diet reduces brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels, which impairs neuronal plasticity, learning, and behavior.

For the current study, the researchers examined data from the Personality and Total Health Through Life Study on 255 individuals aged 60 to 64 years at baseline....Participants were classified as consuming either a "prudent/healthy diet," consisting of fresh vegetables, salad, fruit, and grilled fish, or a "Western/unhealthy diet," consisting of roast meat, sausages, hamburgers, steak, chips, crisps, and soft drinks. A 1-point difference on an 11-point scale of consumption of each type of diet corresponded to 1 standard deviation difference....

The investigators found that for each standard deviation increase in consumption of the "prudent diet," there was a 45.7 cubic millimeter increase in left hippocampal volume. In contrast, each standard deviation increase in consumption of the Western diet was independently associated with a 52.6 cubic millimeter decrease in the volume of the left hippocampusThe impact of diet on hippocampal volume was independent of age, sex, education, labor-force status, depressive symptoms, use of medication, physical activity, smoking, hypertension, and diabetes.

 

The difference in left hippocampal volume between those with a healthy diet and those with an unhealthy diet was 203 cubic millimeters, which accounted for 62% of the average decline in left hippocampal volume during the 4-year study period. Interestingly, there were no significant associations between right hippocampal volume and dietary patterns, although there was a nonsignificant relationship.

In an interview with Medscape Medical News, Dr Jacka pointed out the the research was observational in nature, and therefore it cannot be stated for certain that the Western diet is causing the hippocampus to shrink. "However, there have been many studies in animals that show that a diet high in saturated fats and refined sugars has a very potent negative impact on the brain proteins (neurotrophins) that both protect neurons from oxidative stress and promote the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus," she said.

"Similarly, there are many studies that show that food components high in antioxidants or protective lipids, such as omega-3 fatty acids, increase levels of these proteins. There are also many studies showing that the animal equivalent of 'junk food' diets impair hippocampal-dependent learning and memory." Crucially, Dr Jacka believes that switching from a Western to a "prudent" diet would lead to increases in hippocampal volume."From what we know so far, it seems that neurotrophin levels and hippocampal volume and function are relatively labile and readily influenced by environmental exposures, including both diet and physical activity," she said. "So there is every reason to believe that the noxious impact of unhealthy diets can be reversed by dietary improvement and vice versa."

This is of particular importance given that the latest Global Burden of Diseases data from The Lancet indicate that unhealthy diets are the leading cause of early mortality worldwide and that mental disorders are the leading cause of global disability. With a growing body of evidence showing that unhealthy diets are linked to mental, neurodegenerative, and neurodevelopmental disorders, Dr Jacka said the findings have "enormous implications for public health."

"It's the first time that a dietary pattern has been linked to specific changes in the brain. We've known for a long time that there's a correlation between dietary pattern and the risk of a number of brain illnesses, like depression and dementia, and the mechanism behind this, we believe, involves neuroplastic processes of how food affects brain growth. This is the first study that's really shown that quite conclusively," he said.    BMC Med. Published online September 8, 2015. Full text

 The blue structure in the brain is the hippocampus. Credit: BrainHQ

 Perhaps a nutrient deficit is associated with depression? This study found that eating a Mediterranean diet or a similar diet in which fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans), nuts, and low in processed meats is associated with lower rates of depression. From Medical Xpress:

Fruit and vegetables aren't only good for a healthy body—they protect your mind too

Eating a Mediterranean diet or other healthy dietary pattern, comprising of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and nuts and low in processed meats, is associated with preventing the onset of depression, according to research published in the open access journal BMC Medicine. A large study of 15,093 people suggests depression could be linked with nutrient deficits..

The researchers compared three diets; the Mediterranean diet, the Pro-vegetarian Dietary Pattern and Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010. Participants used a scoring system to measure their adherence to the selected diet, i.e. the higher the dietary score indicated that the participant was eating a healthier diet. Food items such as meat and sweets (sources of animal fats: saturated and trans fatty acids) were negatively scored, while nuts, fruits and vegetables (sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals respectively) were positively scored.

The study included 15,093 participants free of depression at the beginning of the study. They are former students of the University of Navarra, Spain, registered professionals from some Spanish provinces and other university graduates....Questionnaires to assess dietary intake were completed at the start of the project and again after 10 years. A total of 1,550 participants reported a clinical diagnosis of depression or had used antidepressant drugs after a median follow-up of 8.5 years.

The Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 was associated with the greatest reduction of risk of depression but most of the effect could be explained by its similarity with the Mediterranean Diet. Thus, common nutrients and food items such as omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and moderate alcohol intake present in both patterns (Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 and Mediterranean diet) could be responsible for the observed reduced risk in depression associated with a good adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010.

Almudena Sanchez-Villegas says, "A threshold effect may exist. The noticeable difference occurs when participants start to follow a healthier diet. Even a moderate adherence to these healthy dietary patterns was associated with an important reduction in the risk of developing depression. However, we saw no extra benefit when participants showed high or very high adherence to the diets....This dose-response pattern is compatible with the hypothesis that suboptimal intake of some nutrients (mainly located in low adherence levels) may represent a risk factor for future depression."

Two recent meta-analyses of studies looked at depression. The first found that in 12 out of 26 studies eating fish (but NOT fish-oil supplements) was linked to lower rates of depression. The researchers hypothesize that "Fish is rich in multiple beneficial nutrients, including n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals." Another meta-analysis looked at dietary patterns and depression and found that a high intake of fruit, vegetables, fish, and whole grains may be associated with a reduced depression risk. From Medscape:  Fish-Rich Diet May Significantly Reduce Depression Risk

  More research support for extra virgin olive oil and Mediterranean diet associated with anti-cancer effects - here lower incidence of breast cancer. The Mediterranean diet stresses eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fish, and olive oil. From Science Daily:

Mediterranean diet plus olive oil associated with reduced breast cancer risk

Eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil was associated with a relatively lower risk of breast cancer in a study of women in Spain, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

The Mediterranean diet is known for its abundance of plant foods, fish and especially olive oil. Miguel A. Martínez-González, M.D., of the University of Navarra in Pamplona and CIBEROBN in Madrid, Spain, and coauthors analyzed the effects of two interventions with the Mediterranean diet (supplemented with extra virgin olive oil [EVOO] or nuts) compared with advice to women to follow a low-fat diet. Study participants in the two intervention groups were given EVOO (one liter per week for the participants and their families) or mixed nuts (30 grams per day: 15 grams of walnuts, 7.5 grams of hazelnuts and 7.5 grams of almonds).

From 2003 to 2009, 4,282 women (ages 60 to 80 and at high risk of cardiovascular disease) were recruited. Women were randomly assigned to the Mediterranean diet supplemented with EVOO (n=1,476), the Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts (n=1,285) or the control diet with advice to reduce their dietary intake of fat (n=1,391). The women were an average age of 67.7 years old, had an average body mass index of 30.4, most of them had undergone menopause before the age of 55 and less than 3 percent used hormone therapy. During a median follow-up of nearly five years, the authors identified 35 confirmed incident (new) cases of malignant breast cancer.

The authors report that women eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with EVOO showed a 68 percent (multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio of 0.32) relatively lower risk of malignant breast cancer than those allocated to the control diet. Women eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts showed a nonsignificant risk reduction compared with women in the control group.

The authors note a number of limitations in their study including that breast cancer was not the primary end point of the trial for which the women were recruited; the number of observed breast cancer cases was low; the authors do not have information on an individual basis on whether and when women in the trial underwent mammography; and the study cannot establish whether the observed beneficial effect was attributable mainly to the EVOO or to its consumption within the context of the Mediterranean diet. [The original study.]

 The following studies reinforce the advice that people should eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as olive oil (part of the Mediterranean diet). Studies find that consumption of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and extra virgin olive oil have various health benefits, and the following studies, even though not done with humans, suggest some reasons for their health benefits. Luteolin appears to have anti-tumor effects, and so may reduce cancer risk. Dietary sources of luteolin include celery, broccoli, green pepper, parsley, thyme, dandelion, perilla, chamomile tea, carrots, olive oil, peppermint, rosemary, navel oranges, and oregano. Extra-virgin olive oil contains the ingredient oleocanthal, which appears to kill a variety of human cancer cells without harming healthy cells.From Science Daily:

Natural compound could reduce breast cancer risk in some women

The odds of women being diagnosed with breast cancer increase in postmenopausal women who have taken a combined estrogen and progestin hormone replacement therapy; these women also have an increased risk of developing progestin-accelerated breast tumors. Now, researchers have found that luteolin, a natural compound found in herbs such as thyme and parsley as well as vegetables such as celery and broccoli, could reduce the cancer risk for women who have taken hormone replacement therapy.

 "Nevertheless, research has proven that a higher incidence of breast cancer tumors can occur in women receiving therapies that involve a combination of the natural component estrogen and the synthetic progestin. Most older women normally have benign lesions in breast tissue," Hyder said. "These lesions typically don't form tumors until they receive the 'trigger'-- in this case, progestin--that attracts blood vessels to cells essentially feeding the lesions causing them to expand." His newest study shows that when the supplement luteolin is administered to human breast cancer cells in the lab, benefits can be observed including the reduction of those vessels "feeding" the cancer cells causing cancer cell death.

.... the natural compound exerts its anti-tumor effects in a variety of ways. Then, Hyder further tested laboratory mice with breast cancer and found that blood vessel formation and stem cell-like characteristics also were reduced in vivo, or inside the body.

From Medical Xpress: Ingredient in olive oil kills cancer cells with their own enzymes

A Rutgers nutritional scientist and two cancer biologists at New York City's Hunter College have found that an ingredient in extra-virgin olive oil kills a variety of human cancer cells without harming healthy cells. The ingredient is oleocanthal, a compound that ruptures a part of the cancerous cell, releasing enzymes that cause cell death.

Paul Breslin, professor of nutritional sciences in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and David Foster and Onica LeGendre of Hunter College, report that oleocanthal kills cancerous cells in the laboratory by rupturing vesicles that store the cell's waste....Scientists knew that oleocanthal killed some cancer cells, but no one really understood how this occurred. Breslin believed that oleocanthal might be targeting a key protein in cancer cells that triggers a programmed cell death, known as apoptosis....  

After applying oleocanthal to the cancer cells, Foster and LeGendre discovered that the cancer cells were dying very quickly – within 30 minutes to an hour....LeGendre, a chemist, provided the answer: The cancer cells were being killed by their own enzymes. The oleocanthal was puncturing the vesicles inside the cancer cells that store the cell's waste – the cell's "dumpster," as Breslin called it, or "recycling center," as Foster refers to it. These vesicles, known as lysosomes are larger in cancer cells than in healthy cells, and they contain a lot of waste. But oleocanthal didn't harm healthy cells, the researchers found. It merely stopped their life cycles temporarily – "put them to sleep," Breslin said. After a day, the healthy cells resumed their cycles.  

   Another study finds health benefits to eating a Mediterranean based diet (here combined with the DASH diet) - the MIND diet. The researchers found that the older adults who followed the diet best were about 7.5 years younger cognitively than those who followed it least, thus suggesting that it may slow the cognitive decline of aging. Earlier research had suggested that it may reduce a person's risk in developing Alzheimer's disease. Foods to eat: fruits, vegetables, berries, whole grains, legumes (beans), nuts, fish, a little wine, and some chicken. Foods to limit on this diet: butter, red meat, margarine, sweets and pastries, whole fat cheese, and fried or fast food. From Medical Xpress:

Eating away at cognitive decline: MIND diet may slow brain from aging by 7.5 years

While cognitive abilities naturally diminish as part of the normal aging process, it may be possible to take a bite out of this expected decline. Eating a group of specific foods known as the MIND diet may slow cognitive decline among aging adults, even when the person is not at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, according to researchers at Rush University Medical Center. This finding is in addition to a previous study by the research team that found that the MIND diet may reduce a person's risk in developing Alzheimer's disease.

The recent study shows that older adults who followed the MIND diet more rigorously showed an equivalent of being 7.5 years younger cognitively than those who followed the diet least. The results of the study recently were published online in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

The National Institute of Aging funded study evaluated cognitive change over a period of 4.7 years among 960 older adults who were free of dementia on enrollment. Averaging 81.4 years in age....residents of more than 40 retirement communities and senior public housing units in the Chicago area. During the course of the study, they received annual, standardized testing for cognitive ability in five areas - episodic memory, working memory, semantic memory, visuospatial ability, and perceptual speed. The study group also completed annual food frequency questionnaires...

Martha Clare Morris, ScD, a nutritional epidemiologist, and colleagues developed the diet, whose full name is the Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. As the name suggests, the MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. Both diets have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, like hypertension, heart attack and stroke.

"Everyone experiences decline with aging; and Alzheimer's disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Therefore, prevention of cognitive decline, the defining feature of dementia, is now more important than ever," Morris says.

The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 "brain-healthy food groups" and five unhealthy groups - red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food. To adhere to and benefit from the MIND diet, a person would need to eat at least three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable and one other vegetable every day—along with a glass of wine—snack most days on nuts, have beans every other day or so, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week. In addition, the study found that to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of cognitive decline, he or she must limit intake of the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), sweets and pastries, whole fat cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three).

Berries are the only fruit specifically to be included in the MIND diet. "Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain," Morris says, and strawberries also have performed well in past studies of the effect of food on cognitive function.