Women who've survived breast cancer and are looking to prevent a recurrence may be encouraged by news out of a major cancer conference: that adhering to a Mediterranean diet (lots of fruits, veggies, fish, and olive oil) may help fend off the disease's return, the Guardian reports. For their experiment, revealed at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago, researchers at Piacenza Hospital in Italy studied two groups of women who had been treated for early breast cancer: 199 who ate Mediterranean-style (including an allowance for one alcoholic drink daily) and another 108 who ate what they usually did, but with healthy-eating input from a dietician. After three years of following these diets, none of the ladies who went Mediterranean suffered relapses, while 11 women from the other group did. Science World Report notes these results add onto the news from another, much larger recent JAMA study that found a Mediterranean diet rich in extra-virgin olive oil led to a 68% reduction in the risk of developing breast cancer.
There are drawbacks to the new study—notably, the small sample size, the relatively short follow-up time of three years, and other methodology issues, critics say. "People were asked to participate in one diet or the other," the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's director of clinical research tells the Guardian. "There is no information about the activity level or change in weight which, for most of the lifestyle research, one needs to be aware of." And the CEO of UK charity Breast Cancer Care says that while any info about how to possibly keep breast cancer from coming back is a "welcome addition to our toolbox," there's no universal panacea. "Lifestyle choices like eating a well-balanced diet, [partaking in] regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can all help reduce the risk of cancer coming back, but they can't prevent it completely," she notes, per the Independent. (America is slowly but surely moving toward a more Mediterranean way of eating.)