Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide and prostate cancer is the 4th most common cancer with an estimated 1.28 million men affected in 2018. It’s a scary diagnosis and presents some serious choices in treatment modalities. Eating healthfully being one such choice. Taking control of your diet can lower your cancer risk and even curtail an elevated PSA (prostate specific antigen) level that might be early signs of inflammation related to prostate cancer. Now bear with me, because I’ve heard the bemoaning that comes with the following suggestions to take control of your diet. BUT, what’s more important? Long term health or eating a few foods? I can assure you, that once you get over eating inflammatory foods on a daily basis, you won’t miss them and you’ll be able to limit your intake when you do have them. If it prevents you from having to go through a scoping procedure or losing your prostate, or starting chemo, well, I’ll just assume you’re all in.
Research says that eating well is associated with lower rates of all cancers, including prostate and that even non-cancerous prostate issues can benefit from healthy food choices. Nuts and seeds, particularly pumpkin seeds, were found to help men with benign prostatic hyperplasia. Those who consumed 5 grams of pumpkin seeds (about 2 tsp.) twice a day, had a clinically relevant decrease in prostate symptom score. (1) More over, other studies have found pumpkin seed extracts to curtail the growth of cancer cell lines while not damaging healthy cells. (2) This is a significant finding because protecting healthy cells while eliminating damaged cells is an important feature of normal cell growth, and a common goal in cancer treatment.
So what do we think causes cancer? Here’s the short list from the World Health Organization:
- Low fruit and vegetable intake–less than 5 servings per day. 1 serving = 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked
- Lack of exercise–less than 2 hours of exercise per week. That’s just 30 minutes of exercise every other day.
- Tobacco use–even smokeless products, including vaping
- Alcohol use–more than 1 drink per day. 1 drink = 12 oz. beer, 6 oz. wine, 1 shot hard alcohol
- Environmental factors: UV radiation, urban air pollution, chemical exposures including mercury, heavy metals, non-stick cooking chemicals like PFOAs, food additives, preservatives, and colorants–the human body has no physiological need for these other than small amounts of a few metals like iron and copper.
Most of these are modifiable lifestyle choices you have control over. These are the choices that can put your body’s cells in harm’s way. Cells need the tools to put out the flames of inflammation and any firefighter will tell you the best way to put out a fire is to remove the fuel feeding the flames. Once the inflammatory compounds are controlled we can go on to repairing damaged cells. There’s no doubt that lounging on the sofa, with a beer, watching a basketball game is enjoyable, but it can’t be your default behavior day in and day out.
What’s the best nutrition strategy to maintain a healthy prostate or to help with prostate cancer treatment?
- Eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day: Try including 1 cup berries at breakfast, 1 cup cooked vegetables at dinner and 2 cups raw veggies as an afternoon snack. 1 serving of fruit/vegetable = 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked.
- Decrease dairy product consumption. Increased risk of prostate cancer was found with all dairy products, with the exception of whole milk. A meta analysis found risk increased rapidly until reaching an intake of 200 g/day or about .8 cups of dairy per day.(3) Some prostate cancer cell growth is significantly enhanced with casein which is a protein in milk and milk products (4), and found in some protein powders, protein bars, and use as a food additive.
- Choose high calcium non-dairy foods. Non-dairy dietary calcium was not associated with prostate cancer and may be protective (4). Here’s a list of foods high in calcium that show how easy it is to meet our calcium needs without dairy products.
- Increase intake of fiber to reduce elevated insulin which may act as a growth factor to cancer cells. Fiber also helps promote a healthy weight. Strive for 30 g of fiber daily.
- Replace foods with added sugars which also drive up insulin levels and may spur cancer growth. Limit sweet treats to twice a week, replace soda and sweetened coffee beverages by transitioning to sparkling or plain water, stevia sweetened or plain tea, or coffee. For a deeper dive on decreasing your sugar intake, view my webinar, Breaking Up With Sugar
If this all feels too overwhelming, just pick one healthy lifestyle choice that you know you need to improve, and dedicate the next 2 weeks to improving it. You have multiple opportunities everyday to move the needle on healthy behaviors. If you make an unhealthy food choice, don’t sweat it—just start over at the next meal or snack. Like anything in life, solidifying healthy habits takes practice. Rafael Nadal did not become a champion without a lot of practice, mistakes, and figuring out how he could best master tennis. Not everyone needs to play tennis, but everyone’s gotta eat so there is plenty of opportunity to practice! No blame or shame here, just keep practicing and with each healthy choice you’ll find your way toward healthier habits and a healthier life.
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- Effects of pumpkin seed in men with lower urinary tract symptoms due to benign prostatic hyperplasia in the one-year, randomized, placebo-controlled GRANU study. Urol Int. 2015;94(3):286-95
- Pumpkin seed extract: Cell growth inhibition of hyperplastic and cancer cells, independent of steroid hormone receptors. Fitoterapia, Vol 110, April 2016, pages 150-156
- Dairy products, calcium, and prostate cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2015;101:87-117
- A Milk Protein, Casein, as a Proliferation Promoting Factor in Prostate Cancer Cells. World J Mens Health 2014 August 32(2):76-82