Fruits and vegetables can help lower the risk of prostate cancer.
Story: Joy Stephenson-Laws
To give you an idea of how common prostate cancer is, the American Cancer Society estimates during 2018 that almost 165,000 new cases will be diagnosed. This translates to one in nine men being diagnosed during his lifetime. It also is the second-leading cause, behind lung cancer, of cancer death in American men: one in 41 men will die from it.
Given these numbers, it is not surprising an enormous body of research reflects the benefits of early detection. There are many steps that men, and their families, can take to prevent it or increase the odds of better treatment outcomes if diagnosed. Not surprisingly, much of this research centered on the roles of testing and lifestyle, and especially nutrition, in combating this cancer.
To test or not to test
Perhaps one of the most confusing pieces of advice about preventing prostate cancer in recent years is whether men should get the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test or take a “cautious waiting” approach, unless they have clear symptoms or risk factors.
A PSA test looks for signs of prostate cancer by measuring the amount of the prostate-specific antigen in your blood. The upside of this test is it can help catch prostate cancer before it causes serious symptoms. In some cases, this means you may need less aggressive treatment if you developed prostate cancer.
African-American men, specifically, may want to consider a PSA test. The National Institutes of Health reports incidences of prostate cancer in African-American men are almost 60 percent higher and the mortality rate is two to three times greater than in Caucasian men.
Another complex part of prostate cancer is because it often grows very slowly, not all prostate cancers are alike. Some older men will not die from the disease, but it certainly may affect quality of life, especially sexually. There’s no definitive answer about whether using the PSA test to find and treat prostate cancer before symptoms occur improves health or helps a man live longer. For these reasons, the PSA test may not be recommended for some men, especially those over 70 or without symptoms or risk factors.
Risk factors for prostate cancer to consider when deciding which screening with your doctor include:
- Age – Your risk for prostate cancer increases steadily with age, to where this cancer affects one in 14 men between the ages of 60 and 69.
- Lipid profile – Numerous studies suggest a relationship between high triglycerides and cholesterol and risk for prostate cancer.
- Race – For reasons not yet determined, African-American men carry a greater risk of prostate cancer than men of other races; in African-American men, prostate cancer also is more likely to be aggressive or advanced.
- Weight – Obese men diagnosed with prostate cancer may be more likely to have advanced disease more difficult to treat.
- Family history – If men in your family had prostate cancer, your risk may be increased.
The role of nutrition
Medical research supports the notion that nutrition, as part of a healthier lifestyle, may have a great impact on preventing and better managing prostate cancer. And looking at cancer in general, current thinking is some 30 percent to 35 percent of all cancers can be directly attributed to diet.
Differences in diet also may account for the variability of prostate cancer rates in different countries since a high-fat diet stimulates increased testosterone levels, which is known to be associated with prostate cancer growth. Until recently, it was difficult to determine exactly how strong the link is between a high-fat diet and the growth and spread of prostate cancer.
That link is now quantified by a recent study funded by the National Cancer Institute. It clearly shows there is indeed a strong relationship between prostate cancer and a high-fat diet, due to the cellular changes the diet makes on a molecular level that have an impact on prostate cancer metastasis.
During this study, researchers found that metastatic tumors were literally full of fat and that a high-fat diet promoted the development of aggressive and metastatic prostate cancer in lab animals. It is important to note, however, that the study didn’t definitively show that a high-fat diet, rather than the resulting obesity, was what increased the risk of the cancer. Either way, there are clear health benefits to limiting high-fat food in your diet and maintaining ideal body weight.
The study also showed that your overall diet—what you eat on a consistent basis rather than every now and then—is more relevant than any single isolated nutrient.
Supporting this idea is a recent report released by the NIH on how multiple clinical studies show that the combination of diet, exercise, and positive lifestyle changes may play a role in slowing the progression, mortality, and overall disease burden for high-grade and fatal prostate cancer.
That’s why good nutrition is a very important tool in your arsenal against prostate cancer. Strongly consider making the following changes:
Eat anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-packed foods. These are found in colorful fruits, vegetables, whole grains, spices, and polyphenol-rich drinks such as pomegranate juice and green and black teas. Omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood also contain anti-inflammatory properties.
Munch on veggies with protective properties. Certain vegetables and plant foods such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, wasabi, and horseradish contain protective “phytochemicals” that may reduce the risk.
Get plenty of natural fiber. Get fiber from fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain breads and cereals. There are indications these may reduce cancer risk and the risk of prostate cancer progression.
Reduce the amount of simple sugars. Limit sweets such as candy, cookies, cakes, pies, and other ultra-processed foods along with refined flours.
Choose the fat you eat wisely. Foods like meats (especially bacon, salami, and other processed meats), certain oils (like palm oil), and dairy products (such as milk and cheese) are high in saturated fat. Limit your intake of these foods, but keep in mind the healthy-fat foods like avocado, walnuts, and olive oil are good in moderation.
Get your nutrients from fresh food rather than supplements. It’s always better to get your nutrients from food rather than supplements. Getting them in their natural forms helps your body better absorb and process them. But if your doctor recommends taking supplements, use a reliable source.
Though more evidence is needed, a study from Harvard showed men who drink coffee may have a lower prostate cancer risk.
The most proactive thing you can do is focus on good nutrition, moderation, and early detection. It is also imperative that you do not smoke due to the link between smoking and prostate cancer.
- Be proactive
- The first step to being proactive is knowing symptoms:
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Difficulty starting urination or holding back urine
- Weak or interrupted flow of urine
- Painful or burning urination
- Difficulty having an erection
- Painful ejaculation
- Blood in urine or semen
- Discomfort in the pelvic area
- Bone pain
About the writer
Joy Stephenson-Laws is founder of Proactive Health Labs and author of “Minerals—The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy.”