Cancer is one of the chief causes
of death in the developed countries, and its incidence is on the increase.
It is now conceded that there is a relationship between diet and the
development of a large number of malignant tumours. Cell oxidation is one of the
major risks in the formation of cancer: the more susceptible the cell is to
oxygen, the greater the risk of cancer.
The types of cancer most closely
associated with diet are colon-rectal, prostate and breast cancer.
Recent research has revealed that the type of fat seems to have more
implications for cancer incidence than the quantity of fat.
A tumour is an abnormal
swelling or enlargement of a part of body tissue. Tumours may be benign or
Benign tumours are tumours whose cells remain at their
original site. They form a localised cell mass which, when it grows,
encapsulates and very rarely causes death.
Malignant or cancerous
tumours, on the other hand, invade the tissue where they grow. Often they pass
into the bloodstream and the lymphatic system, forming secondary tumours at
other sites known as metastases. The speed of growth and metastasis varies
according to the type of tumour.
Various environmental factors (physical
factors: radiation; chemical factors: certain constituents of foods) and genetic
factors are at play in the formation of tumours. In most types of cancer,
environmental factors are most important.
suggest that olive oil exerts a protective effect against certain malignant
tumours (breast, prostate, endometrium, digestive tract,
A number of
research studies have documented that olive oil reduces the risk of breast
cancer. Eating a healthy diet with olive oil as the main source of fat could
considerably lower cancer incidence. The reason is that the cell mutations
caused by cancer are partly due to toxins which, when consumed through the diet,
attack DNA. On passing through the liver, these toxins produce free radicals
that then attack DNA. To combat such free radicals, the body needs vitamins and
antioxidants like those contained in olive oil.
It has also been
reported that an olive-oil-rich diet is associated with reduced risk of bowel
cancer. The protective effect of olive oil is irrespective of the amount of
fruit and vegetables eaten in the diet.
Recent studies have demonstrated
that olive oil provides protection against cancer of the colon. Lately, research
has been looking into the metabolic implications of fats, more specifically the
protective role of olive oil in chronic liver disease and in the disorder of the
intestines known as Crohn's disease. Results point to beneficial effects of
olive oil on pre-cancerous lesions. After analysing three types of diet,
research scientists arrived at various conclusions. The olive oil diet reduced
the number of cancerous lesions; the number of tumours that developed was
clearly and significantly low; and the tumours were less aggressive and had a
This beneficial effect could be related to oleic acid,
the predominant monounsaturated fatty acid in olive oil. It has been observed
that this fatty acid lowers the production of prostaglandins derived from
arachidonic acid, which in turn plays a significant part in the production and
development of tumours.
However, it is not excluded that other
constituents of olive oil, such as antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols and
squalene may also have a positive influence. Squalene is believed to have a
favourable effect on the skin by reducing the incidence of
Olive oil also adds to the taste of vegetables and pulses
whose benefits in cancer prevention have been amply proved.
promising, current research is centred on the protection provided by olive oil
against child leukaemia and various cancers, such as oesophageal squamous cell
Much has still to be discovered about how olive oil affects
cancer and concrete data are still lacking on the mechanisms behind the
beneficial role it plays in the prevention or inhibitionof the growth of
different types of cancer. However, according to the information available at
present, olive oil could actsimultaneously during the different stages involved
in the process of cancer formation.