February 06, 2005
Several studies have shown that women who eat a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil have lower breast cancer risk. Whether this protective effect is due to oleic acid, the main monosaturated acid in olive oil, or some other component of the diet has been a longstanding question.
Dr Javier Menendez, of Northwestern University in Chicago along with other investigators now think they have the answer. They completed a study of this problem which was published in the January 2005 issue of Annals of Oncology. They found that oleic acid suppressed the cancer causing gene in breast cells grown in cell culture. When oleic acid was combined with Herceptin, an anticancer antibody drug made by Roche pharmaceuticals which can kill breast cancer cells, the effect was synergistic and led to death of cancer cells.
The good news is that this is the first molecular proof that the Mediterranean diet can affect cancer cells. Also, olive oil is known to be safe, cheap and readily available. Caution should be given that this is a study of cancer cells grown outside the body and no study has actually been done on breast cancer patients. Hopefully this discovery will lead to future epidemiological studies and perhaps dietary counseling for those with breast cancer.