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The benefits of the Mediterranean diet have been promoted for years. But what about the diet’s effects among cancer survivors? Seems the effects hold true. A new study showed that adherence to a Mediterranean diet led to a 32% lower risk of mortality compared to participants who followed other diets. The benefit was particularly evident for cardiovascular mortality, which was reduced by 60%. The study was published in JACC CardioOncology.

This is the key result of an Italian study carried out as part of the UMBERTO Project, conducted by the Joint Research Platform Umberto Veronesi Foundation in collaboration with the LUM “Giuseppe Degennaro” University of Casamassima. The UMBERTO Project’s main aim is disentangling the relationship between nutrition and tumors, with a particular focus on the Mediterranean diet. That diet is characterized especially by a high consumption of vegetables and olive oil and only moderate consumption of protein.

A growing number of studies are showing that diet not only affects cancer risk, but can play a role in life after treatment as well.

According to this research, people diagnosed with any type of tumor, who had a high adherence to the Mediterranean Diet in the year preceding their enrollment into the study, lived longer and had a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality, compared to those with lower adherence to this diet.

The study followed 800 Italian adults, both men and women, who had already been diagnosed with cancer at the time of enrollment in the Moli-sani Study, between 2005 and 2010. Participants were followed for over 13 years, and detailed information on their food consumption during the year before enrollment was available for all of them.

“The beneficial role of the Mediterranean Diet in primary prevention of some tumors is well known in the literature, however, little is known about the potential benefits that this dietary model can have for those who have already received a cancer diagnosis,” says Marialaura Bonaccio, first author of the study and co-principal investigator of the Joint Research Platform at the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention of the IRCCS Neuromed. 

Considering that the number of cancer survivors is expected to increase in the coming years, possibly due to targeted and effective therapies, it is crucial to understand the extent to which a healthy diet can prolong survival. This is why Italian researchers examined the role of the Mediterranean Diet in relation to mortality in people who already had a history of cancer at time of enrollment into the Moli-sani study, one of the largest population cohorts in Europe.

“The results of our study—continues Bonaccio—indicate that people who had cancer and reported a high adherence to a Mediterranean way of eating had a 32% lower risk of mortality compared to participants who did not follow the Mediterranean Diet. The benefit was particularly evident for cardiovascular mortality, which was reduced by 60%”.

“These data support an interesting hypothesis—underlines Maria Benedetta Donati, principal investigator of the Joint Platform—that different chronic diseases, such as tumors and heart diseases, actually share the same molecular mechanisms. This is known in the literature as ‘common soil’, namely a common ground from which these two groups of disorders originate.”

“The Mediterranean Diet— explains Chiara Tonelli, president of the Scientific Committee of the Umberto Veronesi Foundation—is mostly composed of foods such as fruit, vegetables and olive oil, that are natural sources of antioxidant compounds, which could explain the advantage observed in terms of mortality not only from cancer, but also from cardiovascular diseases, that can be reduced by diets particularly rich in these bioactive compounds. The UMBERTO Project is therefore oriented to increase knowledge of the mechanisms, in order to clarify the benefits of this dietary model also for more vulnerable population groups, such as cancer survivors.

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