Mediterranean Diet Linked to Higher Survival Rates for Cancer Survivors

An Italian study has found that cancer survivors who follow the Mediterranean Diet have a significantly lower risk of mortality, particularly from cardiovascular diseases, underscoring the diet’s powerful health benefits.

A new Italian study has highlighted the life-extending benefits of the Mediterranean Diet for cancer survivors. Conducted under the UMBERTO Project, this research suggests that individuals with a high adherence to the Mediterranean Diet experience significantly lower mortality rates compared to those who do not follow this dietary regimen.

The research, part of a collaborative effort between the Joint Research Platform Umberto Veronesi Foundation and the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention of the IRCCS Neuromed in Pozzilli, was published in JACC CardioOncology.

This study involved 800 Italian adults who had already been diagnosed with cancer when they enrolled in the Moli-sani Study from 2005 to 2010. Over the course of more than 13 years, these participants were closely monitored and detailed data on their food consumption in the year prior to enrollment was analyzed.

Marialaura Bonaccio, the study’s first author and co-principal investigator of the Joint Research Platform at the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention of the IRCCS Neuromed, emphasized the novelty and importance of these findings.

“The beneficial role of the Mediterranean Diet in primary prevention of some tumors is well known in the literature. However, little is known about the potential benefits that this dietary model can have for those who have already received a cancer diagnosis,” he said in a news release.

The findings are particularly significant given the rising number of cancer survivors, likely due to advancements in targeted and effective therapies. This research underscores the critical need to explore lifestyle factors, such as diet, that can enhance long-term survival for these individuals.

“The results of our study indicate that people who had cancer and reported a high adherence to a Mediterranean way of eating had a 32% lower risk of mortality compared to participants who did not follow the Mediterranean Diet. The benefit was particularly evident for cardiovascular mortality, which was reduced by 60%,” added Bonaccio.

The Mediterranean Diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and olive oil, is known for its high content of natural antioxidant compounds. These bioactive components are believed to contribute to the diet’s health benefits, not only in reducing cancer mortality but also in diminishing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

“The Mediterranean Diet is mostly composed of foods, such as fruit, vegetables and olive oil, that are natural sources of antioxidant compounds, which could explain the advantage observed in terms of mortality not only from cancer but also from cardiovascular diseases,” Chiara Tonelli, president of the Scientific Committee of the Umberto Veronesi Foundation, said in the news release.

The study also supports the “common soil” hypothesis, which suggests that different chronic diseases, including cancer and heart diseases, may share similar molecular mechanisms. This perspective was highlighted by Maria Benedetta Donati, principal Investigator of the Joint Platform, who remarked on the significance of these findings for future research into chronic diseases.

The UMBERTO Project and the Moli-sani Study play crucial roles in unraveling the complex relationship between nutrition and various diseases, with a special focus on leveraging the Mediterranean Diet for health improvements. Since its inception in 2005, the Moli-sani Study has transformed an entire Italian region into a large-scale research laboratory, involving about 25,000 residents of the Molise region to understand the environmental and genetic factors behind cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other degenerative conditions.

This research not only reinforces the recognized benefits of the Mediterranean Diet in preventing primary conditions but also opens new avenues for improving health outcomes among cancer survivors.

As more cancer survivors emerge, the importance of dietary habits will become even more essential, helping to ensure longer, healthier lives for those who have already battled the disease.