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Tuesday September 19 10:53 AM ET
Olive oil may protect against colon cancer

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - British doctors added olive oil on Tuesday to the list of foods that may help to prevent colon cancer.

A new study by researchers at the University of Oxford adds to the growing body of evidence that shows olive oil, a staple of the Mediterranean diet, is as good as fresh fruit and vegetables in keeping colon cancer at bay.

Dr Michael Goldacre and a team of researchers at the Institute of Health Sciences compared cancer rates, diets and olive oil consumption in 28 countries including Europe, Britain, the United States, Brazil, Colombia, Canada and China.

Countries with a diet high in meat and low in vegetables had the highest rates of the disease and olive oil was associated with a decreased risk.

``Olive oil may have a protective effect on the development of colon cancer,'' Goldacre said in a report in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Meat, fish and olive oil were the key elements of the diets in terms of the cancer. Meat and fish combined were positively associated with the incidence of cancer but olive oil had a negative effect.

The researchers suspect olive oil protects against bowel cancer by influencing the metabolism of the gut. They think it cuts the amount of a substance called deoxycyclic acid and regulates the enzyme diamine oxidase which may be linked to cell division in the bowel.

``The olive oil seems to reduce the amount of bile acid and increase the levels of the enzyme thought to beneficially regulate cell turnover in the gut,'' Goldacre said in a telephone interview.

Meat has the opposite effect because it tends to increase the amount of bile acid.

Colon cancer is the second most common cancer in many Western countries. It is much more prevalent in the industrialized world than in developing nations in Asia and Africa.

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