Are You Eating Your Way to Prostate Cancer?

Poor Diet Can Cause Prostate Problems

Doctor discussing prostate ultrasound scan with a patient.
Prostate Cancer and Diet. VOISIN / Getty Images

Prostate cancer will affect approximately 14% of men sometime during their lifetimes. As the fifth leading cause of cancer, it’s estimated that over 220,000 new cancer cases and over 27,000 deaths in 2015 will come from prostate cancer. But wait, there is hope! You can greatly reduce your risk by eating the proper nutrition, sticking to a heart-healthy diet, and exercising regularly. A diet packed with protective nutrients from low-fat and high fiber plant-based foods will help your body fight cancer, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.

On the other hand, eating foods high in saturated fats like meats, dairy, and fried foods, create an environment in your body where prostate cancer is likely to thrive.

How the Prostate Works

Let’s take a look at how the prostate works. The prostate is a small gland located right next to the bladder. Its purpose is to make semen. Over time, hormones can trigger enlargement of the prostate resulting in discomfort, pain, and urinary problems. A specific reaction with testosterone takes place in the prostate, mane an extremely potent male sex hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT directly stimulates enlargement of the prostate gland. You may have heard about DHT before as it’s also responsible for the thinning and loss of hair associated with male pattern baldness.

How Different Diets Affect the Prostate

Certain foods can create an environment in your body which increases the likelihood of prostate growth.

 Studies show that men’s diets typically align with one of two patterns. The first pattern is referred to as the “Western” diet, full of red meats, eggs, potatoes, high-fat dairy, refined grains, processed foods, sugars and desserts. The second pattern is referred to as the “prudent” diet, full of fish, poultry, plant-based proteins, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

A study tracking men’s diets after they were diagnosed with localized prostate cancer revealed that a Western diet full of saturated fats increases men’s chances of death from prostate cancer by 250%. Western diets also increased the chance of deaths resulting from other causes, such as heart disease.

This extra risk can somewhat be attributed to the processed meats prevalent in Western diets, which play a leading role in the steady decline of health. Processed meats are pumped up with additives and preservatives and tend to have high saturated fat contents. Some examples are chicken nuggets, cured meats, hot dogs, salami, sausages, and bacon. The prudent diet incorporates a lot of olive oil and vinegar which improve the health.

Foods have the potential to influence our sex hormone levels. Therefore, it’s possible for certain foods like meat and dairy, to stimulate testosterone production and consequently stimulate DHT and prostate enlargement. Eating meat daily increases your risk of prostate growth by 300% and drinking milk daily increases your risk by 200%.

 Dairy consumption is also linked to prostate cancer in over ten studies, possibly because dairy can release a protein into the blood stream which can promote cancer growth. Studies show that drinking milk increases cancer risk by 30-60% in men.

Plant-based foods can help testosterone levels stay normal and lower cancer risk. These low fat and high fiber foods include legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you don’t eat vegetables daily, your risk of prostate enlargement increases by 400%! Fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants which help boost your immune system to fight free radicals and cancer cells. Vegetarians, vegans, and people who eat fresh plant-based diets low in fat are at a much lower risk of cancer and cancer progression.

How to Eat for Prostate Health

So what can you do to ensure your healthy prostate? Understand what foods and drinks you should focus on and what to avoid. Pay attention to your portion sizes and stop eating when you are just full. Avoid red meats as much as possible, including beef, pork, lamb, and processed meats. Choose healthy protein sources like fish, skinless poultry, beans, and eggs. Choose good fats like olive oil, almonds, walnuts, pecans, and avocados. Avoid saturated fats (in dairy and animal products) and trans fats (in fast food and processed food) as much as possible. Make sure to eat at least 5 servings of colorful fruits vegetables a day, and opt for breads, pastas, and cereals made only from 100% whole grains instead of white flour.

Be wary of sugar and salt. Sugar causes inflammation in the body, weakening the immune system and making it more susceptible to cancer. Avoid sugary drinks like sodas and juices sweetened with added sugars and other unnatural sweetener substances. Occasionally, it’s ok to eat something sweet, but don’t let that become the norm. Limit salt by picking foods that are low in sodium. Take a look at the nutrition facts label on foods before you buy them, and you’ll realize how many premade foods, canned, processed, and frozen foods are jam-packed with sodium.

Nutritional supplementation that can help prostate enlargement includes using saw palmetto, cold-pressed flaxseed oil, vitamin E, vitamin B6, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol as much as possible.  Saw palmetto is an extract from a palm tree that blocks the production of DHT which enlarges the prostate, and can improve existing symptoms. Doctors can also prescribe drugs to shrink the prostate, relieve pressure, or block the production of DHT. One example of a DHT blocker is Finasteride.

Incorporating regular exercise into your daily life is highly beneficial for your prostate health. Regular physical activity reduces your chances of pain and discomfort from prostate enlargement, such as walking regularly at a moderate pace. Both regular aerobic (walking) and non-aerobic (weight lifting) exercises significantly improve prostate pain, anxiety and depression, and quality of life. Exercise also helps ward off erectile dysfunction, where an hour and a half of rigorous aerobic exercise or three hours of rigorous outdoor work per week is enough to cut the risk of developing erectile dysfunction by 20%.

Most men experience some prostate growth by age 80, but only half of them have significant enlargement and only a quarter have urinary symptoms. It’s also possible for the prostate to shrink with age. Symptoms from mild prostate enlargement tend to naturally go away in about 25% of men after 5 years. Symptoms tend to stay the same in about 50% of men and get worse in the remaining 25%. If you experience any pain, discomfort, or difficulty, pain, or problems with urinating, make sure to see a doctor right away.

Choosing a lifestyle with regular exercise and a low-fat diet full of plant-based foods, you can keep your prostate healthy, improve your health, help keep hormones balanced, and improve your immune system.  The choice is yours to make!

Sources

10 Diet and Exercise Tips for Prostate Health. Harvard Health Publications, 4 Oct 2011.

Heart-healthy Diet Boosts Survival in Men with Low-risk Prostate Cancer. Harvard Health Publications.

Inflammation and Cancer: Why Your Diet is ImportantTaschery S. University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, May 2014.

Nutrition and Prostate Health. Barnard, ND. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Prostate Cancer. National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program.

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