Scientists have recently discovered why eating a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables and particularly olive oil can help to protect women from developing breast cancer. The key is oleic acid , the main component of olive oil.
"We have something now that is able to explain why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy
Dr Javier Menendez, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said oleic acid blocks the action of a cancer-causing oncogene called HER-2/neu which is found in about 30 percent of breast cancer patients. He reported his findings in the journal Annals of Oncology.
-- Dr Javier Menendez, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
"We have something now that is able to explain why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy," Menendez told Reuters. Doctors and researchers had been aware that eating a Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of breast cancer and other illnesses such as heart disease. But until now they did not know how.
Menendez and his colleagues in the United States and Spain studied the impact of oleic acid in laboratory studies of breast cancer cells. He explained, "We are able to demonstrate that the main component of olive oil, oleic acid, is able to down-regulate the most important oncogene in breast cancer".
They found that oleic acid not only suppressed the action of the oncogene, it also improved the effectiveness of the breast cancer drug Herceptin, a targeted therapy made by Swiss drug maker Roche Holding AG that works against the HER-2/neu gene.
Breast cancer patients with HER-2/neu positive tumors suffer from an aggressive form of the disease and have a poor prognosis. "It is totally safe to consume olive oil," he added.