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What’s Good for Your Prostate is Good For All of You
Your Pro-Active Fight Against Prostate Cancer – Part 2

In Part 2 of this 4-part series, Janet Farrar Worthington talks with PCF-funded researcher Lorelei Mucci about sugar, the Mediterranean Diet, and how a heart-healthy diet helps fight cancer. Check out Part 1 to learn about the nuts-and-bolts of nutrition studies and anti-inflammatory foods.

What’s Good for Your Prostate is Good For All of You

Here’s some good news:  In your pro-active fight against prostate cancer, you’re not just helping your prostate (or helping to keep cancer from coming back, if your prostate is long gone)!  You’re helping your heart, and you’re also helping to lower the risk of diabetes and insulin resistance.  Go, you!

What about foods that are bad for diabetes and insulin resistance?  Harvard scientists Fred Tabung, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., and Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Sc.D., led a study, using data from thousands of participants in the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, to assess the “insulinemic potential” of diet and lifestyle – basically, how foods and exercise affect blood sugar and insulin resistance, as measured by certain biomarkers in the blood.  Foods that did not raise blood sugar or insulin resistance included wine, coffee, whole fruit, high-fat dairy (whole milk, sour cream, a half-cup of ice cream, a slice of cheese, etc.), nuts, and leafy green vegetables.  Physical activity was also good for lowering insulin resistance and blood sugar.

What do the experts make of this?  Benjamin Fu, M.P.H.,Ph.D. a postdoctoral fellow in the Harvard lab of Lorelei Mucci, M.P.H., Sc.D., has been looking at these two different dietary patterns: “a diet associated with hyperinsulinemia, and a hyper-inflammation diet.”  The two diets have some overlaps, but are not identical.  Neither is good for men worried about prostate cancer, Mucci says, “particularly the hyper-insulinemia (blood sugar-raising) diet, which is associated with a 60-percent risk of more advanced or fatal prostate cancers.  The hyper-inflammatory diet also is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer,” particularly in men who develop cancer at a younger age, in their forties and fifties.  “It may be that earlier-onset cancers are more susceptible to the effect of diet and lifestyle.”

What does heart health have to do with it?  Everything. It is surprising that two organ systems that are so different anatomically share so much at the biochemical level. The link, again, comes down to chronic inflammation and whether it’s prevented or accelerated as a human being ages.  It turns out, says Mucci, that “cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases are the major cause of death in many men who have prostate cancer.  If you look at men with localized prostate cancer and survival outcomes over 10 years, three-fourths of the deaths in those men will be due either to cardiovascular disease or another chronic disease.  Only one-fourth of the mortality is due to prostate cancer.”  Now, you may be thinking, we all have to die of something, right?  This is true, but “these men are dying sooner than they should, and eating a plant-based diet rich in cruciferous vegetables will help lower that risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Which brings us to the Mediterranean Diet:  Not only do people in Mediterranean countries, as compared to Americans, eat more vegetables and fruits.  They also eat fewer fatty foods, less processed junk, and less red meat – “which increases insulin resistance, increases inflammation, raises cardiovascular risk and also is part of a dietary pattern that may increase obesity, as well,” as Mucci notes.  You know what else they eat a lot of?  Olive oil.  Greater than 30 ml a day, which is a little over two tablespoons.  “There’s really good evidence that extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), either on its own or as part of the Mediterranean diet, substantially lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and lowers the risk of overall mortality.  The evidence specifically for men with prostate cancer is much more limited, but given the strong benefits for overall death and cardiovascular death in particular, not only using EVOO, but using it to replace butter or margarine, is something that is worth doing.”

Coming soon: Part 3 – Exercise For a Healthy Prostate

Janet Worthington
Janet Farrar Worthington is an award-winning science writer and has written and edited numerous health publications and contributed to several other medical books. In addition to writing on medicine, Janet also writes about her family, her former life on a farm in Virginia, her desire to own more chickens, and whichever dog is eyeing the dinner dish.

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