Mediterranean Diet, Heart Disease and Cancer Risk

Yesterday, a major study published in the New England Journal of Medicine put a spotlight on how making dietary changes can have a major affect on health. The canstockphoto6734517study focused on the Mediterranean Diet and heart disease, finding that consuming a plant-based diet, along with plenty of nuts and healthy oils, linked to a reduced risk of stroke, cardiovascular death and heart attacks compared to those following a low-fat diet.

Here’s the study.

Briefly, researchers split almost 7,500 Spaniards at risk of heart disease – but showing no signs of any – into three dietary groups. One group consumed more extra-virgin olive oil, about four cups per week; a second group added about one ounce of nuts to their day; the third group was assigned to a low-fat diet. Along with nuts and healthy oils, the two Mediterranean-diet groups also ate more fish and legumes compared to the low-fat group.

After five years, those following the two Mediterranean Diet patterns showed primarily a reduced risk of stroke.

The Mediterranean Diet shares many qualities to the evidence-based diet shown to reduce cancer risk. Here, we asked AICR Nutrition Advisor Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, to talk about the diet and how it relates to cancer prevention.

Q: Can you describe a Mediterranean Diet?
A: It’s a plant-based diet that uses a large and abundant variety of vegetables and fruits. It makes vegetables and fruits the centerpiece of the meal, not just in the proportion but in the way they are seen as a way to enjoy and savor. The diet also has healthy fats and uses legumes abundantly. Meats, especially red meat but even poultry, are eaten in limited amounts.

Q: What does the Mediterranean Diet share with AICR’s cancer-protective diet?
A: They are both plant-based diets, with a wide variety of vegetables and beans, and they both limit red meats. The Mediterranean diet does generally involve some red wine but it’s not required – it’s not an essential part of the diet and for those who do drink, its only in moderation and generally only at meals.

Q: What does the research show on the Mediterranean Diet and cancer risk? The research seems to be much clearer for heart disease.
A: There are just more studies looking at heart disease and the Mediterranean Diet than with cancer. It’s not that the Mediterranean Diet doesn’t link to cancer prevention, its just not as well studied. So far, it looks like the Mediterranean diet can prevent certain cancers. Some research has suggested that following a Mediterranean Diet can reduce cancer mortality and incidence.

Cancer develops over many years, which makes intervention-type trials a challenge. Research does link the Mediterranean diet with reductions in markers of inflammation, and combined with the abundance of antioxidant, cancer-fighting phytochemicals in the Mediterranean diet, this is an eating pattern that fits well in the overall model of a diet to lower cancer risk that we see in the New American Plate.

Q: For people concerned with both heart health and cancer prevention, what can we take away from this?
A: This study compared Mediterranean to a low-fat diet, which other studies have also done, and this shows that a singular focus in defining low-fat as being healthy is misplaced. It depends on what your eating when you reduce your fat.

By eating a healthy diet and embracing the real principals of a varied and plant-based diet, its showing that it’s not just what you don’t eat, its what you do eat that counts. Eating healthy fats and a plant-based diet together can lower the risk of both heart disease and cancer.


Cancer, Diabetes and Heart Disease: A Paradigm Shift

Patients with type 2 diabetes need to make a paradigm shift, and their doctors and other health providers can help them, according to AICR nutrition consultant Karen Collins, presenting yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators.

Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer form a “triad of disease” says Collins. These three diseases share many common risk factors such as obesity, inflammation and insulin resistance, so we can’t think of them in isolation. How patients manage these diseases through lifestyle changes can help each of these diseases and lower risk for all three.

For example, people with type 2 diabetes often focus only on blood sugar control as the way to manage their disease, but that singular focus may not always lead to better overall health. High levels of insulin seem to promote some cancers, so using more and more insulin to manage blood sugar may, in the long run, increase cancer risk.

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Teens: Double the Diabetes, Increasing Later Cancer Risk

Almost a quarter of teens are now at risk of or currently have diabetes, suggests a new government study. Although these findings need to be confirmed, increasing numbers of type 2 diabetes means more teens face serious health problems, including increased risk of cancer, years in the future. The study by the Centers for Disease Control found that teen at risk of prediabetes or diabetes has risen sharply from 9 to 23 percent over the past decade.

The study, published today in the journal Pediatrics, also found that the percent of teens at risk for heart disease remained relatively constant but high over the past decade. Almost half of overweight teens had at least one risk factor for heart disease.

The study pulled data from almost 3,400 teens (ages 12 to 19) who were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The national survey regularly collects data on diet, activity and health measures.

Researchers compared NHANES data from 1999 to 2008, also looking at data every two years in between. The measured risk factors for heart disease included high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol. LDL – low-density lipoprotein – is the cholesterol commonly linked to heart disease. Continue reading