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Prostate Cancer Nutrition and Diet Studies

Prostate Cancer Nutrition and Diet Studies image

Prostate Cancer and The China Study

Back in the days of flower power and Vietnam war protests, a nutritional biochemist from Cornell University named Dr. T. Colin Campbell began working on a nationwide project in the Philippines that focused on uncovering why so many Filipino children were developing liver cancer, which typically affects adults.

Liver cancer rates also are highest in countries where the people consume a low amount of protein, so one goal of the project was to make sure the children were getting enough protein. Dr. Campbell and his team were surprised to learn that the children from the best-fed families who ate the most protein were the ones most likely to develop liver cancer.

Campbell’s findings prompted him and his colleagues to form a 20-year partnership between Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, which surveyed the diet, diseases, and lifestyle factors of the residents living in rural China and Taiwan. The survey became known as The China Study, and it produced more than 8,000 strong links between various elements of diet and disease. (Campbell 2005)

One of the most important links was the one showing that people who ate the greatest amounts of animal-based foods suffered from the most chronic diseases. On the flip side was the finding that people who ate the greatest amounts of plant-based foods were the healthiest and the ones who tended to escape the wrath of chronic conditions and disease. The China Study researchers concluded, therefore, that if you want to strive for optimal health, you should focus on a plant-based diet and make meat, high-fat foods, and heavily processed foods a very small part of your menu.

The China Study and Soy

Many people have assumed from the China Study findings that the plant-based foods that seemed to keep people healthy in this study were soybean-based; that is, primarily tofu, as well as miso, which is a fermented soybean product. However, according to a 1998 survey, it seems that the average daily amount of legumes (soybeans are a legume) consumed in China varied from 9 to 58 grams.  Assuming that two-thirds of legume consumption is soybeans, then the maximum amount of soy foods the Chinese were consuming was 40 grams, or less than three tablespoons per day. The average amount was 9 grams, or less than two teaspoons.

The Chinese have traditionally used soy foods as a condiment, and these results bear that out. (Fallon 2000) You will not find a Chinese family sitting down to an 8-ounce slab of tofu like you will see an American sitting with an 8-ounce sirloin on his plate. The conclusions of the researchers with The China Study were not wrong: a plant-based diet that keeps meat, processed foods, and high-fat foods as a very small part of the menu is a healthy way to eat. But soybeans are only a very small part of those plant-based foods. The majority of the diet consists of vegetables, rice, fruits, and noodles, along with garlic and ginger.  (See also: Can Soy Cause Cancer?)

World Health Organization (WHO) and Prostate Cancer

world health organizationThe World Health Organization has its own perspective on the impact of nutrition on health in general and cancer in particular. The Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases report states that:

“Nutrition is coming to the fore as a major modifiable determinant of chronic disease, with scientific evidence increasingly supporting the view that alterations in diet have strong effects, both positive and negative, on health throughout life.”

The WHO report goes on to say that “dietary factors are estimated to account for approximately 30% of cancers in industrialized countries,” which makes diet second only to tobacco as a preventable cause of cancer. About prostate cancer in particular, the WHO report notes that “studies suggest that it is positively associated with a ‘westernized’ diet,” and that:

“..diets high in red meat, dairy products, and animal fat have frequently been implicated in the development of prostate cancer”.

The report also acknowledges the role of hormones in the growth of the prostate, and that:

“ might influence prostate cancer risk by affecting hormone levels.”

Dr. Ornish and Prostate Cancer

the ornish dietDean Ornish, MD, founder and president of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, is a pioneer in preventive medicine. His research shows that comprehensive lifestyle changes have an impact on gene expression, “turning on” genes that can prevent disease and “turning off” genes that promote cancer and heart disease.

In a study that was published in the Journal of Urology, Dr. Ornish and his colleagues proved that they could slow or prevent worsening of early prostate cancer in men who followed a low fat diet (very low fat, 10% or less of calories from fat). They enrolled 93 men who had early-stage prostate cancer who had chosen to “watch and wait” instead of opt for active treatment. The men were randomly assigned to follow the nutrition program or to usual care, which meant they just lived their lives in the same way, not changing their diet or other habits. The program included a very low-fat, plant-based, whole foods diet, regular exercise, and routine practice of relaxation techniques.

During the one-year study, six men in the usual care group had to undergo conventional treatment because they had a rise in PSA levels or an MRI showed disease progression. None of the men in the program group required treatment. Overall, PSA levels declined 4 percent in the program group and increased 6 percent in the usual care group. Cell cultures showed that blood from men in the program group inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells by 70 percent compared to 9 percent in the usual care group. (Ornish 2005)

Ornish and his team conducted a two-year follow-up and found that 13 of 49 (27%) patients in the usual care group had undergone conventional prostate cancer treatment (radical prostatectomy, radiotherapy, or hormone therapy) compared with 2 of 43 (5%) in the program group. Three of the usual care patients but none of the Ornish program patients had a PSA level of 10 ng/mL or higher. The researchers concluded that patients with early-stage prostate cancer who choose the program may be able to avoid or delay conventional treatment for at least two years. (Frattaroli 2008)

Ornish says that when you change your diet and lifestyle, different genes are turned on or off. That means eating a plant-based, whole-foods diet, engaging in regular exercise, and enjoying stress reduction activities can control your gene expression and stop or reverse cancer.

Dr. Ornish applied his diet and lifestyle changes and discovered that levels of telomerase (the enzyme that protects the telomeres and help them stay long) were higher, reversing the impact of chronic stress. Therefore you can reverse the effects of stress on your genes, on your health, on your prostate, and on aging by following a plant-based, whole-foods diet, exercising, and relaxing. (

Telomerase: Research Reveals How Cancer-Driving Enzyme Works

The Mediterranean Diet and Prostate Cancer

med dietFor millennia, people who live in the Mediterranean region have indulged in a way of eating that focuses on plant foods and monounsaturated fats, like olive oil, while also getting lots of regular physical exercise. They didn’t think of their eating habits as being a diet; it was just the way they lived, and it helped them lead long, healthy lives with little worries about chronic diseases.

Dozens of large and extensive studies show that people who follow the Mediterranean diet can reduce their risk of death from both heart disease and cancer, lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, control weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and even reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (WebMD)

The basics of the Mediterranean diet are:

  • Get lots of exercise
  • Don’t eat alone: share your meals with family and friends. Savor and enjoy your food and your company. Eat slowly
  • Enjoy generous amounts of fruits, vegetables, and legumes
  • Consume healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats (olive and canola oils) and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Eat small portions of nuts
  • Drink red wine, in moderation
  • Consume very little red meat (the traditional Mediterranean diet is practically vegetarian)
  • Eat shellfish or fish at least twice a week
  • Eat locally grown, seasonal foods and avoid processed foods
  • Practice portion control—small portions of high-quality food

Think about how this compares with SAD (Standard American Diet), which consists of lots of meat and dairy, few fruits and vegetables, saturated and trans fats, high salt, little fish, and processed foods.

Prostate Benefits of The Mediterranean Diet

A study published in the October 2009 issue of Maturitas noted that men and women who reported eating foods closest to the Mediterranean diet were about 10 to 20 percent less likely to die of heart disease, cancer, or any other cause. The Mediterranean diet was also associated with having a preventive effect on cancer and on reducing the prevalence of metabolic syndrome and obesity.

Data gathered from more than 10,000 cases showed that certain elements of a Mediterranean diet were associated with reduced cancer risk, including monounsaturated fats, fish (and omega-3 fatty acids), and whole grain foods, while frequent red meat and refined grain intake were directly related to some cancers. (Bosetti 2009)

University of Melbourne researchers looked at prostate cancer mortality among Greek men in Greece and those who had migrated to Australia and found that the migrants had retained their low risk for the disease and their diet. The researchers also noted that the Mediterranean diet is rich in foods that may protect against prostate cancer, including legumes, soy foods, and those high in vitamin E, lycopene, and selenium. (Itsiopoulos 2009)

In addition, studies have shown that men who follow the Mediterranean diet have a decreased risk of impotence/erectile dysfunction. Read more on the ED and Diet Connection

The Atkins Diet and Prostate Cancer

red meat and prostate cancerThe Atkins Diet may help you lose weight—at least for a while—but it can also help you lose something else: your health. Imagine a diet that encourages you to eat lots and lots of protein and fat and very few carbohydrates including beef, bacon, butter, cheese, and eggs, all rich in saturated fat and cholesterol.

The Atkins Diet’s drastically low carbohydrate plan sends the body into a state of ketosis. In this condition the body burns fat for energy, which may sound good, except it is not a healthy way to burn fat. Ketosis is associated with many side effects, including fatigue, headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and more. But ketosis is the least of your problems on the Atkins Diet.

Gail Frank, PhD, former spokeswomen for the American Dietetic Association and professor of nutrition at California State University in Long Beach noted in a WebMD article that the body needs about 150 grams of carbs daily (the Atkins Diet starts at 20 grams and does not get much higher) to function in a healthy mode and that the brain needs glucose to function efficiently. (WebMD/Atkins)

The American Heart Association states that “Individuals who follow these diets are at risk for compromised vitamin and mineral intake, as well as potential cardiac, renal, bone, and liver abnormalities overall.” (Sachiko 2001) Low-carb diets like Atkins can also speed up the onset of type 2 diabetes. (Bilborough 2003) Hospitals in Europe have banned the diet, backed up by the British Nutrition Foundation and the British Dietetic Association. (Times London 2003) Overall, as experts in Lancet and other quality medical journals have noted, “low-carbohydrate diets cannot be recommended.” (Astrup 2004)

Study on Dietary Changes that Can Affect Prostate Cancer Survival Rates

A study published in June 2013 found that men with localized prostate cancer could reduce their risk of dying from prostate cancer by 29% by making some dietary changes. The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study followed nearly 4,600 men with prostate cancer for over eight years. The men who swapped just 10% of their daily calories from animal fats and carbohydrates to healthy vegetable fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado were 29% less likely to die from prostate cancer and 26% less likely to die from other diseases. A simple change such as adding one daily tablespoon of an oil-based salad dressing is enough to make a difference.

The study will hopefully lead to further research on the role of diet and heart-healthy oils preventing not only heart disease but prostate cancer as well. The interesting part about the study is that it followed men who already had prostate cancer and could follow the effects of diet in men who replaced some saturated fat and carbohydrates for unsaturated, healthier fats and saw nearly one third of men who made the change live longer. While the study does not explain why this happened, it is an indicator that men may be able to slow their growth of prostate cancer by changing their diet.

Created: September 1, 2010

Site last updated 24 October, 2016



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