Preventive measures and early detection is the key to achieving optimum treatment and survival outcomes for breast cancer. As women, we need to shift our focus to prevention. Sensible lifestyle choices are crucial.
By Alice Alech for Women in Olive Oil
A breast cancer diagnosis is a traumatic event for all women, no matter what stage of life we're at. This month October is breast awareness month worldwide, and once again, the spotlight is on educating women on the importance of breast self-education as well as lifestyle measures to help us reduce our risk of this disease.
Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast start growing abnormally; they divide much faster than the healthy cells, accumulate, and grow to form a lump or tumor. The cancer is noninvasive if the cancer cells are only in the breast, but the tumor is invasive if it spreads to the remaining tissue. Invasive cancers then spread to the rest of the body.
Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women and the second most common cancer overall. To keep those numbers down, we need to look at the risk factors contributing to breast cancers. We are all concerned.
The Mediterranean diet has been researched over the years, demonstrating the many health benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the highest quality olive oil to be one of the best low saturated dietary fats to combat breast cancer.
One most recent study funded by the World Cancer Research Funds took place in the Netherlands, where approximately 14,000 women per year are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. It showed that women who adhere to a strict Mediterranean diet with lots of extra virgin olive oil reduced their risk of developing estrogen-receptor negative (ER-negative) breast cancer, a severely aggressive form of postmenopausal breast cancer. The study followed over 60,000 women aged 55 to 69 for a period of 20 years.
Olive oil is a healthy fat
Fat is often framed as a negative word and often misunderstood. Think of fat as positive energy; fat provides calories for the body – fat provides nine calories per gram compared with protein and carbs, which provide four calories per gram.
That said, our body needs fat, and authentic nutritious Extra Virgin Olive Oil provides good fat, about 75% monounsaturated fats. Scientific studies show that a diet with moderate to high amounts of fat can help with weight loss, crucial to keep breast cancer at bay.
The trouble with a low-fat diet is that when there's not enough fat in the meal, we are not satisfied, so we think we are craving carbohydrates.
Dr. Mary Flynn, a research dietician and associate professor of Clinical Medicine at The Miriam Hospital and Brown University, understands the dilemma. She developed a plant-based olive oil diet in 1998/1999 in response to the US's low-fat craze. “All fat was deemed unhealthy in the US,” she said.
“But I knew that people raised on diets that contained extra virgin olive oil had better overall health, including less breast cancer versus people not including olive oil,” she emphasized.
Dr. Flynn recognizes that being overweight or gaining weight after a breast cancer diagnosis is the single most significant risk factor for an initial breast diagnosis or a diagnosis of recurrence.
My main reason for writing the book, she says, is to educate the public. I also wanted to teach them how to keep the weight down sensibly.
More and more research studies
The discovery of oleocanthal at the Monell Chemical Senses Center and the amazing effects on breast cancer cells showed just how beneficial the main phenol components of extra virgin olive are on our health. More research continues testing the effects of oleocanthal as a cancer prevention tool.
Research into olive oil continues to expand on the significant components of olive oil. Apart from the fatty acids, extra Virgin Olive Oil has some interesting minor components which also play a natural role in preventing breast cancer.
You may not have heard about squalene, a natural antioxidant, the main minor component in olive oil. It is found in many plant foods but more so in extra virgin olive oil. According to research carried out at the University of Jaen in Spain, squalene protects the DNA of healthy mammary epithelial cells against oxidative damage.
Vitamin E, also an antioxidant and present in olive oil, helps keep our cells from damage by neutralizing the free radicals. These unstable molecules cause havoc in our DNA and eventually cause cancer.
Extra virgin olive oil with its plethora of phenolic compounds (natural antioxidants) is unique. It should be the fat of choice, the one that we incorporate into our lifestyle habits to fight breast cancer.
Dr. Flynn gives some good advice:
“I recommend all people at least two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil/day as part of meals, and more is better! My suggestion is one tablespoon of olive oil per cup of vegetables. Extra virgin olive oil makes vegetables taste better, so people always eat more vegetables and fat to absorb, making vegetable cancer-protective.”
About the author: Alice Alech trained as a radiographer (x-ray technician) and specialized in mammography. She is also a qualified teacher of English as a foreign language. She has lived and worked in Martinique, St. Lucia, UK and Australia.
She discovered the wonderful world of Olive Oil on moving to Provence, drawn into the olive culture where taste, flavor, and quality of olive oil are crucial. With her health background, she is
understandably drawn to extra virgin olive health benefits, even more so after the research for "7 Wonders of Olive Oil", which she co-authored with Cécile Le Galliard.
She now writes on health and wellness from her home in the South of France.