The Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet for Persons with Cancer in Terms of Health Outcomes

Unhealthy weight gain following cancer therapy is frequently linked to fat accumulation. Such patients may benefit from the Mediterranean diet (MED diet) at this time. A recent investigation of the safety and advantages of this diet in adult cancer patients, as well as its practicality in this population, was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


Cancer is currently the world’s largest cause of illness and death, having been diagnosed in about 20 million individuals. Cancer treatment also has a number of unfavourable side effects that shorten life expectancy, accelerate ageing, and create long-term metabolic abnormalities.

Early menopause, cognitive decline, cardiomyopathy, chronic fatigue, and weight loss are some of these negative effects. Exercise and proper diet could help to lessen these long-term negative consequences. However, there isn’t much data to back up the appropriate dietary pattern for these problems that may arise during or after cancer therapy.

Concerning the Mediterranean diet

One of the healthiest eating habits has long been acknowledged to be the MED diet. Following this diet has been linked to a lower chance of developing a number of chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular damage.

High intakes of fish, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits, and extra virgin olive oil are indicative of this dietary pattern. Red wine and dairy consumption is low, and red meat, processed foods, and added sugar are minimal. It has been suggested that this diet’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics influence its positive benefits on heart and metabolic health.

According to prior research, people following a MED diet have a 22% and 13% decreased chance of passing away from breast cancer and prostate cancer, respectively. This is critical since the hormone therapy commonly used to treat these tumours alters the body composition and metabolism, raising the risk of cardiometabolic illness.

It has been demonstrated that this patient group benefits from dietary modification combined with exercise by losing weight and body fat. However, the suggestion that persons with cancer follow a MED diet is not well-supported by rigorous studies. The current investigation was inspired by this.

Concerning the study

Fifteen publications covering the MED diet intervention among this patient population were included in a systematic review that was conducted. Ten of these featured breast cancer patients, all of whom were female, and one of whom was primarily female. Lung cancer, acute myeloid leukaemia, and prostate cancer were the remaining conditions.

Five of the studies involved ongoing patient therapy, and the remaining five were post-treatment investigations. Three of the patients were receiving treatment, one of whom had begun it within five years of the diagnosis.

The majority of research focused on weight loss, but several also addressed fatigue, inflammatory mediator levels, nutrition, and stable weight maintenance. Overweight or obese individuals were subjected to varied degrees of energy restriction. Some adopted tactics like eating less portions or consuming more filling foods.

What modifications were noticed?

By comparison, 64% to 96% of participants followed the MED diet exactly, while controls followed it less frequently. Participants on the MED diet experienced a reduction in body weight in six studies when compared to the control group. The body mass index (BMI) dropped in the intervention group compared to the control group in seven trials.

While three also reported a loss of lean mass, the body fat mass showed a similar positive trend.

A number of metabolic biomarkers and inflammatory markers were positively impacted, such as lower levels of glucose, lower levels of interleukin-8 (IL-8), lower levels of cardiovascular markers like triglycerides and total cholesterol, higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good cholesterol”), and lower levels of albumin.

Better emotional, physical, and cognitive health were also linked to the intervention, along with a decrease in fatigue and an improvement in quality of life.

What conclusions can be drawn?

Given the broad variation in study methodologies and MED diet composition among the included studies in this review, a firm suggestion to attain these positive effects is challenging to make. Nonetheless, the MED diet’s viability, safety, and acceptability as a dietary intervention have all been demonstrated.

The considerably higher adherence observed in these research suggests the beneficial function of nutritionists in this kind of intervention, with accompanying advise on nutritional value, cooking demonstrations, and recipes customised for specific clients.

This energy-restricted diet is especially effective in helping people lose weight; obese or overweight patients undergoing hormone therapy or recovering from breast or prostate cancer have lost up to 4 kg. Evidence supporting the MED diet’s benefits is currently limited to women who have finished their breast cancer treatment.

To verify that the MED diet will aid in the prevention and management of chronic disease in this group of cancer survivors who are very susceptible to such problems, more research is required. It is necessary to investigate strategies that support this eating pattern while safeguarding or enhancing muscle mass.

Frequent encounters with healthcare professionals and other dietary components, such as green tea, which have their own anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, could have acted as confounding factors and mediated the improvement in cardiometabolic status and quality of life. In order to exclude the possibility that nutrition, adherence, and results play a part in the prevention or treatment of chronic illness, further research on these topics will need to carefully record their effects.