Can a Mediterranean diet support cancer treatment?

A woman wearing an apron prepares vegetables

Study on skin cancer finds patients who followed a Mediterranean diet more closely benefited most from treatment.

A recent study from King’s College London investigated whether dietary patterns might influence how well certain cancer drugs work.

The study, co-led by ZOE’s scientific co-founder Prof Tim Spector, focused on advanced melanoma, a type of skin cancer. It found that patients who followed a Mediterranean diet more closely benefited the most from the cancer treatment. And gut bacteria seemed to be key.

Immunotherapy and gut bacteria

A range of treatments are available for melanoma, but immunotherapies are some of the most promising options. Over the last decade, a form of immunotherapy called immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) has significantly improved survival rates for people with melanoma.

However, not all patients respond to these potentially life-saving drugs and recent evidence suggests that gut bacteria might influence how effective ICB is. As diet influences the gut microbiome, the scientists explored whether dietary patterns might affect people’s responses to ICB.

What did they find?

The authors concluded that a Mediterranean-style diet that is enriched in whole grains, fish, nuts, fruit, legumes and vegetables is associated with a higher probability of response in ICB-treated patients with advanced melanoma.

They believe that the improved response to immunotherapy is likely linked to the gut microbiome. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.

The study’s co-lead, Spector, said:

All cancer patients should now be given potentially life-saving dietary advice, such as increasing plant diversity, reducing ultra-processed foods, and adding fermented foods, before starting therapies.

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