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Olive Oil Offers Breast Cancer Survivors a Surprising Benefit

Friday, June 04, 2010


Olive oil may offer breast cancer survivors a surprising benefit. Researchers from The Miriam Hospital in Providence have found that olive oil may produce greater weight loss in breast cancer survivors compared to a more traditional low-fat diet.

olive oil

olive oil

Why is this important to women with breast cancer?

Excess weight at the time of diagnosis, or the possibility of weight gain during cancer treatment, is associated with an increased risk of cancer recurrence. This is especially common in post-menopausal women.

The pilot study had women follow two 1,500-calorie diets. The first was a conventional low-fat diet recommended by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and then a plant-based olive oil diet similar to the Mediterranean diet. After eight weeks on each diet, participants selected one diet to follow for an additional six months of continued weight loss or weight management.

The results of the study indicated that 80 percent of women who started with the plant-based olive oil diet lost more than 5 percent of their baseline weight, compared to 31 percent who started with the NCI diet. 
The study was published in the June issue of the Journal of Women’s Health. Mary Flynn, PhD, RD, LDN, the study’s lead author and a research dietitian at The Miriam Hospital, says many breast cancer patients don’t realize there is a link between weight and cancer recurrence.


Dr. Mary Flynn

“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,” says Flynn. “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.”

The results of the study indicated that 80 percent of women who started with the plant-based olive oil diet lost more than 5 percent of their baseline weight, compared to 31 percent who started with the NCI diet. 

Aside from the high percentage of women who lost more weight with the plant-based olive oil diet, the researchers were surprised to learn that most women chose to stick with the less conventional, higher fat olive oil diet, saying they found the food more appetizing and affordable. 

The diet used in the study and developed by Dr. Flynn  included at least three tablespoons of olive oil per day, with nuts at breakfast. Women also ate three servings of fruit and unlimited vegetables daily, and whole grains were also emphasized. Women could eat limited amounts of poultry and fish per week but red meat and polysaturated fats, like vegetable oils, were prohibited.

More health benefits? The plant-based olive oil diet also resulted in lower triglycerides and higher high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL, or “good” cholesterol). High triglycerides and low levels of HDL have both been linked with increased cancer risk. 

The study was supported by a grant from The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. Steven E. Reinert, MS, from Lifespan Information Services, was co-author on the study.


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