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Olive Oil Helps Breast Cancer Survivors Lose Weight, Prevent Recurrence

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Olive oil can help women with breast cancer lose weight, an important factor to prevent recurrence of the disease. Scientists compared a traditional low fat diet among 44 overweight women with body mass index of at least 25 who were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer after the age of 50 to a traditional low fat diet. Adding olive oil to the diet not only helped with weight loss, but the women with breast cancer studied also found the addition of olive oil enjoyable and suitable to the budget - they also experienced less hunger.

Breast cancer survivors, especially post menopausal women, are at risk for recurrence of the disease from increased body mass index. Obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer and has also been targeted as a risk factor for recurrence. Too much body fat has been linked to spread of cancer. Finding ways to lose weight and keep it off is important, especially for women who have been treated for or at risk for breast cancer.

Scientists studied two groups of women, each given a 1500 calorie diet. One group followed a traditional low fat diet recommended by the National Cancer Institute and the other group followed a plant based diet similar to the Mediterranean diet. After six weeks of sampling each food plan, the women were allowed to choose which diet to follow for six more months during a weight loss and management program. Eighty percent of women with breast cancer who consumed at least three tablespoons of olive oil a day and nuts at breakfast, lost five percent of their body fat compared to 31 percent of women consuming a low fat diet.

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The researchers were surprised to find women enjoyed the olive oil diet, choosing it over a traditional but less restrictive low fat diet. Mary Flynn, PhD, RD, LDN, the study's lead author and a research dietitian at The Miriam Hospital, Providence RI said, "That's why it was important for us to compare these two diets and determine which one the women not only enjoyed following, but also produced the best weight loss, because that's the diet they're more likely to stick with. In this case, it was a diet enriched with extra virgin olive oil, which is a source of healthy fats, and includes foods associated with improving one's health, such as vegetables, beans and other plant products." Flynn also says many women are unaware of the link between excess weight and breast cancer recurrence.

The women in the olive oil diet group ate three servings of fruits and as many vegetables as desired, in addition to three tablespoons of olive oil daily with nuts at breakfast. Consuming whole grains was emphasized. Red meat, vegetables oils and other foods with polyunsaturated fat were prohibited and poultry and fish consumption was limited. Women with breast cancer given the low fat diet recommended by the National Cancer Institute that is less strict consumed 25 to 50 grams of fat daily, at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and six to 7 ounces of lean, but not red meat daily. More women consuming the olive oil diet that closely resembled a Mediterranean diet lost weight compared to a low fat diet.

In addition to weight loss, women with breast cancer also experienced lower triglyceride levels and elevated HDL (good) cholesterol, also linked to breast cancer recurrence. Flynn also says women given an olive oil enriched diet were less likely to snack between meals – a factor that can cause weight gain. The women were encouraged to consume fat in the form of olive oil or nuts at each meal. The benefit of olive oil for preventing cancer has become a recent focus for researchers. The current study shows olive oil added to the diet can help women who have survived breast cancer lose weight, reducing the chances of disease recurrence.

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