Mediterranean diet protects against stomach cancer

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Eating the Mediterranean way can help reduce your risk of stomach cancer, a large study from Europe shows.

“The results add to the evidence for the role of the Mediterranean diet in reducing cancer risk and add further support for the need to continue to promote the Mediterranean diet in areas where it is disappearing,” Dr. Carlos A. Gonzalez of the Catalan Institute for Oncology in Barcelona and his colleagues say.

The traditional diets of Greece, Italy and other Mediterranean countries have many health benefits, they point out in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, including protection against cancer. But there is less information on how eating this way might influence risk of specific cancer types. Gonzalez and his team looked at gastric cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death worldwide.

To investigate whether diet might be protective against the disease, the researchers analyzed data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study on 485,044 men and women 35 to 70 years old from 10 European countries.

All had been given a score on an 18-point scale based on how closely their diet adhered to the Mediterranean ideal of being rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish, cereals and olive oil, with a relatively low intake of red meat and dairy products.

During nine years of follow-up, 449 of the study participants developed gastric cancer.

People with the highest relative Mediterranean diet scores were 33 percent less likely to develop the disease than people whose eating patterns were furthest from the Mediterranean ideal. Gastric cancer risk fell 5 percent for every one-point increase in a person’s Mediterranean diet score.

Just 23 percent of people diagnosed with gastric cancer will survive for five years, the researchers note. “Therefore, identifying dietary recommendations that can help reduce incidence is important for the effective management of this cancer,” they conclude.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online December 9, 2009.