In Part 4 of this 4-part series, Janet Farrar Worthington asks Harvard epidemiologist and PCF-funded scientist Lorelei Mucci, M.P.H., Sc.D., for her expert opinion on some of the top foods for prostate cancer. Here’s the rundown, in no particular order:
Your best diet is colorful: a rainbow of plant-based foods, low in sugar, and moderate in animal protein.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO): Yes! More than 2 tablespoons a day. Among other things, EVOO contains hydroxytyrosol, which scientists now recognize as a natural means of cancer chemoprevention. It is a powerful antioxidant, and it has been shown to protect against cancer by slowing proliferation of tumor cells and increasing apoptosis – “suicide” – of cancer cells.
Tomatoes: Yes! Especially when cooked in or drizzled with olive oil, which helps you absorb a key component of tomatoes, lycopene. “The prostate accumulates a lot of things,” including cholesterol. “It accumulates lycopene. When a man eats a diet high in lycopene, for some reason, lycopene levels in the prostate go up. Lycopene makes sense biologically, because it does accumulate in the prostate. It is an antioxidant. This is one of the individual dietary components that seems pretty promising.”
Don’t like tomatoes? Good news: Lycopene is in watermelon and grapefruit, too!
Coffee: Yes. “Coffee is looking more and more promising. There are now a number of studies that suggest drinking coffee regularly, one to two cups a day, can help prevent aggressive forms of prostate cancer. Some studies say three to four cups offer even more of a benefit, but there’s an initial benefit with one to two cups. Coffee may also lower the risk of diabetes, liver cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.”
Tea: Sure, what the heck. There are far fewer studies on tea than on coffee, but tea has antioxidants. People in Asia, which has less prostate cancer than the U.S., drink a lot of green tea. “Tea lowers inflammation, but has not been shown to have an effect on insulin levels.” However, and this is important: it doesn’t seem to raise your risk of getting prostate cancer.
Note: If you go to a fancy coffee shop and get a 1,500-calorie coffee with not only cream but whipped cream, and loads of sugar, or if you drink a super-sweet tea loaded with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, the effects on insulin resistance and risk of weight gain will probably cancel out the antioxidants.
Fish: Yes. “We published a meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies that looked at fish and prostate cancer death, and there was a pretty good benefit with regular consumption of fish.” Particularly “dark-meat” fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and red snapper.
Devil’s advocate: Are men healthier because they eat fish, or because if they choose fish, they’re not eating a big old ribeye steak cooked in butter? Talk amongst yourselves, but fish is not nearly as pro-inflammatory as red meat.
Nuts: Sure. “There’s not much evidence one way or another with prostate cancer death, but they really seem to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality.” Also, if you’re eating a handful of nuts as a snack, maybe you won’t be eating a bag of chips. “In one of our studies, we observed that substituting 10 percent of calories from carbohydrates for calories from healthy, plant-based fat (such as nuts) was associated with a 29-percent lower risk of prostate cancer death, and a 26-percent lower risk of all-cause death,” says June Chan, ScD, of UCSF.
Pasta: In moderation. However, non-traditional pastas, made from cauliflower or chick peas, are another way to sneak in vegetables. They may also help you manage your weight. “Excess body weight, particularly the visceral fat around the abdomen, is associated with worst outcomes from prostate cancer. Anything men can do to help reduce their weight – limiting bread and pasta, and increasing things like cauliflower pasta and vegetable intake overall – is beneficial.”
Charred meat: Try to limit it. When meat is charred, it makes a chemical compound called PhIP, that is a known carcinogen. Even worse: those beautiful grill marks combined with a pro-inflammatory food, like red or processed meat.
Soy: sure. “Consumption of soy is much higher in Asia, where the incidence of prostate cancer death is lower. Soy is probably part of a strategy for maintaining healthy weight, and it’s a way of replacing red meat. Does it lower prostate cancer death? I don’t know that we have that evidence.” Another complicating factor: “Men who eat more healthy diets tend to get screened for prostate cancer. If you get regular PSA testing, you’re five times more likely to get diagnosed with prostate cancer.”
And, if you get diagnosed early, you are more likely to get early treatment while the disease is confined to the prostate. It’s like the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, a domino effect.
Vitamin D: Yes. “There’s really promising data on vitamin D and prostate cancer mortality.” One randomized trial, the VITAL study, “if you look at prostate cancer mortality, specifically in black men who have low levels of vitamin D, there’s a reduction in prostate cancer mortality. Evidence from many studies suggests that this makes sense; there’s a lot of genetic data on inherited vitamin D pathways; this pathway seems to be very important for prostate cancer.” Vitamin D is found in some foods such as fatty fish and egg yolks, and the body produces vitamin D through sunlight. Most men do not get sufficient vitamin D, however, and the best strategy is to take a vitamin D supplement.
Check out the other articles in this series on wellness, diet, cancer prevention & recovery, Your Pro-Active Fight Against Prostate Cancer: