Can a daily dose of olive oil help lessen breast cancer risk? An ongoing study aims to prove just that.
Being a woman. Growing older. Family history.
Despite the many lifestyle issues that increase cancer risk - weight gain, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise - the fact is, we have absolutely no control over the most significant factors that can lead to breast cancer.
Being female is #1. Getting older is #2. Genetics - your family history, and whether you carry any mutated genes - is #3.
And right up there in that top tier of risk factors is one we hear much less about, but one that’s more critical than taking birth control pills, undergoing hormone replacement therapy, or being obese -
Women with dense breasts (a condition determined by a radiologist) are up to six times more likely than women with normal breasts to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
And while researchers aren’t quite sure why this is true, a group at Houston Methodist Cancer Center is currently conducting a clinical study to figure out if there’s a simple, everyday ingredient that might reduce breast density, and thus lessen breast cancer risk -
Olive oil. Specifically, hydroxytyrosol, one of this healthy oil’s chief components.
It’s long been known that olive oil is a "good fat." It’s a powerful antioxidant, cleaning your body of free radicals (a chemical known to increase cancer risk); and it’s been linked to a reduction in heart disease and high blood pressure. Many nutritionists recommend 2 tablespoons olive oil daily as part of a healthy diet.
In fact Mary Flynn, a nutrition researcher at Brown University, has developed a diet centered around olive oil, and aimed specifically at breast cancer survivors. The Plant-Based Olive Oil (PBOO) diet, detailed in The Pink Ribbon Diet: A Revolutionary New Weight Loss Plan to Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk, takes the typical Mediterranean diet one step further, adding a healthy dose of olive oil each day to the plant-based eating plan it recommends.
The Houston study, underway since January, will follow 100 women for a year. The study has no placebo group; each woman will take a 25mg hydroxytyrosol capsule daily, and be examined every 3 months for signs of lessening breast density.
Will the study show the hoped-for relationship between hydroxytyrosol and breast density? Many women with dense breasts hope so. While none of us can change the fact we’re women, growing older, and carry our family’s genes, there might just be a way to lessen our breast density. And thus our cancer risk.
Hamel, PJ. (2012, October 10). Body Weight and Breast Cancer Risk: A New Way to Eat. Retrieved from https://www.healthcentral.com/breast-cancer/c/78/156423/weight-cancer
Olive oil component investigated for breast cancer prevention. (2014, January 22). ScienceDaily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140122112401.htm
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.