The answer to a life free from cancer may have arrived at last: live like a monk. Research into one of the world's most isolated monastic communities has revealed that only a tiny number of brothers have suffered from the disease in the past decade.
The austere existence of the monks of Mount Athos has been notorious in Greece for generations but, until this week, few beyond the peninsula's monastic walls had considered mimicking their sombre lifestyle.
Now the monks are at the centre of a media frenzy, as health enthusiasts chase the latest cancer-beating fad. But anyone hoping to make a health tourism trip to the mountain should give up now as the monks do not welcome visitors. Their stress-free existence, away from women and the outside world, is one theory as to why the number of them suffering from the disease is so astoundingly low.
The main factor in their low uptake of cancers is their diet. The brothers alternate their meals, and ration olive oil, wine and dairy products on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The 20 different monasteries in the segregated community – which can only be reached by boat from mainland Greece – have varying regimes, but the one thing they all share is an ascetic diet.
Avoiding meat altogether, and subsisting on home grown fruit and vegetables with occasional fish, meals are repetitive and simple.
Haris Aidonopoulos, a urologist at the University of Thessaloniki, explained why the monks' diet was crucial to understanding the remarkably low proportion of sufferers from the disease.
"What seems to be the key is a diet that alternates between olive oil and non olive oil days, and plenty of plant proteins", he said. "It's not only what we call the Mediterranean diet, but also eating the old-fashioned way. Simple meals at regular intervals are very important."
Of the 1,500 monks, only a minute proportion have developed cancer. Since 1994, scientists have regularly tested them for the disease, and found that none developed lung or bowel cancer.
Source - Independent