Mediterranean diet reduces mouth cancer risk

Date published: 15 August 2014

A Mediterranean diet can halve the risk of developing mouth cancer, according to a new study.

The results, published in the British Journal of Cancer, discovered that patients who had a diet involving more Mediterranean foods, based on whole or minimally processed foods, had a significantly lower risk of developing the disease.

The research also reveals that young adults, non-smokers and those with a higher level of education fared the best, although the diet reduced the risk across everyone studied in the 12-year period.

A Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, fish and olive oil and low in fast food, sugar-sweetened beverages, refined grain products and processed or energy-dense foods with moderate red meat and alcohol intake.

Poor diet is one of the risk factors for mouth cancer, and Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, believes a Mediterranean diet is perfect for people seeking the right balance.

Dr Carter said: “Italy has some of the lowest recorded cases of mouth cancer in Europe, and this study is a perfect explanation of why that is.

“It’s really interesting to note just how the risk for mouth cancer drops according to how thorough the med diet is. The absence of processed foods is a key element to this. Some experts believe poor diet accounts for more than half of mouth cancer cases in the UK, and the worst thing is it’s really simple to develop a diet that can keep you out of harm’s way.

“White meat, lean red meat, nuts, fruit and vegetables, low alcohol intake with meals and a low number of sweets and pastries are all staples of a Mediterranean diet. What’s more, many of the foods are also good for oral health – for instance fruit and vegetables lower the risk of gum disease.

“As well as poor diet, smoking, drinking alcohol to excess and the human papillomavirus (HPV) are all risk factors which can contribute to mouth cancer. The number of cases of mouth cancer is continuing to grow. More women are contracting the disease and there's an increasing risk of younger people being affected, especially by HPV related cancer.

“Despite the predicted rise in mortalities and cases, there is not always a great deal of publicity surrounding mouth cancer, so people just do not realise how common and dangerous it is. This is why we campaign for Mouth Cancer Action in the UK, raising awareness of the risk factors and what to look out for.

“As early detection plays such a pivotal role in survival rates, it is really important that everyone knows the warning signs for mouth cancer. They include mouth ulcers which do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth.”

Researchers analysed data from a study carried out between 1997 and 2009 in Italy and Switzerland, including 768 confirmed oral and pharyngeal cancer cases. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet was measured using the Mediterranean Diet Score (MDS) based on the major characteristics of the Mediterranean diet, and two other scores, the Mediterranean Dietary Pattern Adherence Index (MDP) and the Mediterranean Adequacy Index (MAI).

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