Mediterranean diet linked to marked decrease in colorectal cancer risk
10/14/2019 // Evangelyn Rodriguez // Views

Known as one of the healthiest -- if not the healthiest -- diet in the world, the Mediterranean diet is recommended for the prevention of a variety of diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Studies have also found a link between the Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of cancer. However, up until recently, the components of the diet responsible for its cancer-preventive effects have remained unidentified. At the ESMO 21st World Congress on Gastrointestinal Cancer held in July in Barcelona, researchers from Israel presented their study pinpointing which staples of the Mediterranean diet help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. They reported that a diet consisting of mostly fruits and fish and completely devoid of sodas is particularly effective in preventing the development of this type of cancer.

The Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of advanced colon polyps

Colorectal cancer is known to develop from colon polyps, which are formed when cells clump together along the lining of the colon. Although usually harmless, colon polyps can eventually turn into colon cancer. Naomi Fliss-Isakov, one of the authors of the study, shared that diets low in fiber but high in alcohol, red meat, and calories increase a person's risk for colorectal cancer.

The Mediterranean diet puts heavy emphasis on the consumption of plant-based foods, in particular seeds, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These foods are rich in fiber and essential nutrients that are known to promote digestive health. On the other hand, consumption of animal products -- with the exception of fish and seafood -- is reduced to a bare minimum. This type of diet has been credited with lowering the rates of chronic diseases and prolonging the lifespans of people who live in the Mediterranean region.


For their study, the researchers recruited 808 individuals aged 40 to 70. These individuals were undergoing screening or diagnostic colonoscopy when they took part in the study. The researchers gave them food frequency questionnaires to determine the components of their daily meals. (Related: The Mediterranean diet can stop overeating and prevent weight gain, researchers find.)

Based on their answers and the results of their screening, the researchers found that individuals who had advanced colon polyps reported eating fewer components of the Mediterranean diet than those with clear colonoscopy results. Meanwhile, individuals who consumed even just two or three components of the diet also fared better than individuals who ate none. This suggested that a person's risk of colorectal cancer is inversely proportional to the number of Mediterranean diet components he or she consumes on a regular basis.

Fish, fruits, and no soda are key to preventing colorectal cancer

When the researchers adjusted their data to take other risk factors into account, they identified two components of the Mediterranean diet that help lower the risk of colorectal cancer, namely, fish and fruits. They also found that consuming large quantities of these foods while avoiding soft drinks is the best combination for preventing the formation of advanced colon polyps.

"We found that each one of these three choices was associated with a little more than 30% reduced odds of a person having an advanced, pre-cancerous colorectal lesion, compared to people who did not eat any of the MD components. Among people who made all three healthy choices the benefit was compounded to almost 86% reduced odds," said Fliss-Isakov.

Dr. Dirk Arnold, spokesperson for ESMO, praised the large population-based study for credibly confirming the relationship between diet and colorectal polyps. Although there are still many questions left to be answered, Arnold believes it makes sense to consider the Mediterranean diet for other health-related reasons besides cancer prevention.

The Mediterranean diet encourages people to eat less processed foods, high-sodium foods, and sweets, including beverages pumped with added sugars. It also recommends only moderate consumption of high-protein sources like chicken, eggs, cheese, and other dairy products. Meanwhile, the Mediterranean diet prioritizes foods rich in healthy fats, fiber, and nutrients above all others. To maximize its benefits, people on this diet are urged to combine it with regular exercise or physical activities, and to enjoy their meals with others.

You can learn more about the Mediterranean diet and its components at

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