Doctor’s Tip: Nutrition to prevent prostate cancer
May 30, 2016
The prostate is a gland located between the bladder and base of the penis, and is the size and shape of a walnut. It surrounds the urethra, which is the outlet from the bladder, and secretes the fluid portion of semen. Unfortunately, in people on a Western diet, the prostate is prone to cancer, and prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the U.S. other than skin cancer. It is estimated that in 2016, almost 200,000 American men will be diagnosed with it.
More than 50 percent of men have autopsy evidence of prostate cancer when they die of other causes, and most of these men never knew they had it. The PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test was developed for early detection, and a level above 4.0 is abnormal, as is a significant increase from one year to the next even if the level remains under 4.0. The test is controversial because it doesn't differentiate between low grade cancer and the aggressive cancer that kills men. Treatment consists of radiation, surgery and chemotherapy, all of which often have side effects that interfere with quality of life. So if the tumor is aggressive, early detection with a PSA can save your life, but if the tumor is low-grade it is better not to know you have it.
What makes the most sense is to prevent prostate cancer, and following are some facts that suggest how we might do that. This information was obtained from the well-referenced, evidence-based books "The End of Heart Disease" by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.; "Spectrum" by Dean Ornish, M.D.; "How Not to Die" by Michael Greger, M.D. (if you don't want to read his book go to his website nutritionfacts.org and search prostate cancer). I also used the 69-slide PowerPoint presentation titled "Plant Based, Diets, a Cure?, by Andrew Freeman, M.D., plant-based cardiologist at National Jewish Hospital in Denver.
1. Years ago, we knew that Japan recorded just a handful of prostate cancers a year while it was common in Western countries. The difference seemed to be due to the plant-based diet in Japan versus the animal-based diet in Western countries. Since World War II, Japanese men have seen a 25-fold increase in prostate cancer, coinciding with increased egg, meat and dairy consumption. We now know that animal protein, including muscle proteins in meat, egg white protein in eggs and milk proteins in dairy stimulate the production of IGF-1 (insulin growth factor), which stimulates the growth of cancer cells.
2. Studies in the lab show that adding cow's milk to prostate cancer cells in a petri dish stimulate their growth; almond milk does not.
3. A 2015 meta-analysis found that high intake of dairy products including milk (both whole and low fat) and cheese, but not nondairy sources of calcium, increase prostate cancer risk. Several other studies have confirmed this. (Note that plants such as greens, beans and soy have plenty of calcium and are more effective than milk for preventing osteoporosis and fractures).
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4. Egg intake is associated with increased risk of getting prostate cancer and of its spread, probably due to the choline in egg yolks.
5. Men who eat poultry (chicken and turkey) are more apt to get prostate cancer, probably due to cooked meat carcinogens.
6. Dr. Dean Ornish, famous for reversing heart disease with a plant-based, low fat, whole foods diet, showed that the blood of people on a plant-based diet fought cancer cells in the lab eight times better than the blood of those on an animal-based diet.
7. More recently, Dr. Ornish studied men with elevated PSA levels and biopsy-proven early prostate cancer and split them into two groups. The men in the group that continued the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet), the PSA levels increased with time. The second group was on a strict vegan diet, and PSA levels decreased.
8. Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, kale and cabbage have been shown to cut the risk of prostate cancer progression in half.
9. Daily ground flaxseed consumption has also been shown to reduce prostate tumor proliferation.
Here is the bottom line:
1. Out of the billions of cells in our bodies, some are always mutating. If you have an optimal diet and immune system, these abnormal cells are usually destroyed before they start multiplying and become cancer.
2. To achieve this, you want to eat lots of plants, because plants have antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties that animal products lack.
3. You also want to avoid food that is known to promote prostate cancer, such as eggs; dairy; and meat, particularly poultry.
4. As with most cancer, prostate cancer starts years before it is detected, so what you feed your kids has implications for their health years and decades later (as a parent and grandparent I realize it isn't easy to get your kids to stick exclusively to healthy food).
5. If you are a man, talk to your provider about the pros and cons of PSA testing. What I recommend to my patients is to get a PSA and prostate exam (rarely prostate cancer is present with a normal PSA) at 40 and 45 (men do get prostate cancer in their 40s), and then yearly from 50 to 75. If you have been plant-based all your life, your risk is very low but not zero. If your PSA is borderline or starts to rise, definitely go on a 100 percent plant-based, moderately low fat, whole (unprocessed) food diet and monitor your PSA level closely.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at email@example.com.