AICR Health Talk
Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: Does olive oil reduce the risk of breast cancer?
A: Research regarding olive oil’s beneficial relationship to heart health is strong, but is still limited regarding cancer risk. You may have heard about the Spain-based PREDIMED study, where women who got the greatest proportion of their calories from extra virgin olive oil had a lower risk of breast cancer than those with the least. In this and other studies showing possible lower risk though, there are many caveats, including that some studies were very small or did not adjust for important risks like alcohol. AICR’s comprehensive continuous update project (CUP) on breast cancer prevention so far has not identified olive oil as protective.
Extra virgin olive oil contains high levels of tocopherols (compounds related to Vitamin E that may offer protective effects) and natural plant compounds called polyphenols. In laboratory studies, these compounds are studied for their potential to reduce DNA damage, decrease cancer cell growth, and increase the self-destruction of cancer cells.
In studies where olive oil is associated with reduced breast cancer in humans, it reflects a greater proportion of calories coming from olive oil. That’s important, since simply adding calories could lead to weight gain, and overweight increases risk of postmenopausal breast cancer (and ten other cancers). One more key point: when greater olive oil consumption links with lower cancer risk, it may be because it tends to go hand in hand with overall healthy eating that includes more vegetables and other healthful plant foods. Olive oil is a great choice, but research provides much stronger support for the importance of an overall eating pattern with mostly plant foods and healthy weight than your choice of oil.
Learn more about the different types of olive oil.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).