The Mediterranean diet. A nutritional model inspired to the most common elements in Italy. It is renowned, throughout the world, for its excellent taste and its wholesomeness. So, in our country, the culinary tradition is part of the overall health. However, the problem is the excess of food. Professor Alberto Mantovani, Scientific Director of Humanitas, wrote the article “Fight Obesity to Prevent Cancer” for the newspaper “La Stampa”, about obesity and how this is a risk factor for cancer.

Our country, second only to Greece, has the highest number of overweight and obese children. This fact has extremely negative consequences on the present and future lives of these kids. “This is an important alarm, especially given, that the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer, has certified that obesity is a carcinogen (that is to say, it causes cancer) and to be exact, it causes thirteen types of cancer”.

Why does obesity cause cancer?

There may be many reasons. “Scientists have thought for a long time that the main cause was the overproduction of estrogen hormones. These are found in the adipose tissue. For example, an excess of estrogens may promote breast cancer. However, today we put emphasis on the inflammation. Obesity causes cancer because it is linked to alterations of the metabolism, the inflammatory response and the immune response. Recent research progress has led us to discover that more than half the cells of the immune system are inside the adipose tissue. In particular, the confused signals coming from the excess fat, disorient macrophages. As a result, they produce inflammatory cytokines that severely damage our body. They may even induce a metabolic syndrome. Cytokines, are the molecules that our immune system uses to communicate. Imagine them as “words” that recall – in the right number, moment and place – the white blood cells that protect us from infections. However, if they are too many or not necessary, they become harmful. For this reason, mediators of inflammation play an important role in the development of some obesity-related diseases, such as adult-onset diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer”.

What to do?

“Awareness and education campaigns are necessary. Since poverty is associated with a higher frequency of overweight people, the most vulnerable sections of the population are paying and will pay the highest price.

We should restart from the “deposits” of our culinary tradition. On one hand, by digging into them from a molecular point of view with further scientific research. That will identify, in every kind of food, the molecules that cause protection against or promotion of diseases. On the other hand, we should value these deposits by making use of them in our nutrition as much as possible, reverting to a Mediterranean diet.

A good quality of life starts at mealtime and continues with the right lifestyles. A good advice is the 0-5-30 rule. Zero cigarettes, at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables and thirty minutes of moderate physical exercise per day. In fact, a healthy lifestyle helps avoid getting overweight and risking cancer, cardiovascular diseases and autoimmune diseases”, prof. Mantovani says.