Dr Anni Tripathi looks at the dietary changes people can make to help prevent prostate cancer and if having a vegan diet could lower the risk.
According to Cancer Research UK, around 140 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every day. This equates to a total of 52,300 cases per year.
For people with prostates within the UK, it is the most common form of cancer. Most new cases are diagnosed after the age of 65.
These numbers can be daunting to look at, but discussing and learning more about this form of cancer can raise more awareness of the symptoms and could make a difference in someone catching it early.
Plus we take a look at how a vegan diet can make an impact against prostate cancer.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a walnut-size gland that sits below the bladder and at the upper end of the urethra, the tube which carries the urine from the bladder.
This gland is part of the body that functions to create a white fluid that mixes with sperm to create semen.
Prostate cancer is cancer that starts in the prostate. If left untreated it can then spread to further parts of the body.
Although there is a risk of it spreading throughout the body, it is very small and can take years to grow to that extent.
What can contribute to the risk of getting prostate cancer?
There are several risk factors that can contribute to developing prostate cancer.
Risk factors include increasing age, positive family history, obesity, as well as ethnicity1.
The incidence rate seems to be higher in black ethnic groups compared to white ethnic groups within the UK2.
Those who have a strong family history of breast cancer, specifically related to gene BRCA1 or BRCA2, may also have a higher risk of prostate cancer3.
Risk factors that contribute to developing prostate cancer include increasing age, positive family history, obesity, as well as ethnicity.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
Symptoms of prostate cancer can include:
- Increased urgency as well as frequency of urination
- Weak or interrupted flow of urine
- Blood in urine or semen
- Erectile dysfunction
- A need to strain while urinating
These symptoms can sometimes be similar to other prostate problems like benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH) or prostatis. If there are any concerns it is best to seek medical help and discuss them with your GP.
It is also important to highlight that during the early stages of cancer, some people may be asymptomatic.
If you're experiencing any symptoms it's important to discuss this with your doctor. Image credit: Chinnapong via Getty Images
How can lifestyle have an impact?
The GEMINAL study4 has shown that intensive lifestyle and nutrition changes may help in changing the gene expression in men diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Another study, led by Dean Ornish, showed positive association of lifestyle changes with longer telomeres 5 (the protein ends of each chromosome) in people with biopsy-proven low grade prostate cancer.
Shorter telomeres are linked with ageing, disease, and premature morbidity.
Which treatments are available?
Most of the treatments available to treat prostate cancer includes surgery, antiandrogen medication, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Treatment procedures depend on which stage the cancer is found at diagnosis.
Unfortunately, these treatments can result in several side effects, with erectile dysfunction being just one of them.
It is hence crucial to discuss dietary and lifestyle changes, which can be easily included alongside all other treatments.
There are several treatments to treat prostate cancer. Image credit: skaman306 via Getty Images
A whole food plant based diet (WFPBD)
The EPIC Oxford study 6 and the Adventist Health Study-27 have both shown that a whole food plant based diet supports a reduction in overall cancer risk.
This is because a plant-based diet is rich in nutrients that help reduce chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, as well as abnormal cell growth.
Controlling these processes with a healthy diet and lifestyle helps prevent prostate cancer along with other cancers.
The fibre content in a plant-based diet supports healthy gut bacteria, which in turn increases the amount of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) in the colon.
These SCFA possess anti-cancer activities and can stop histone deacetylase, an enzyme complex that research shows can reduce prostate cancer progression.
A plant-based diet is also low in calories, which makes it ideal for maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding obesity, one of the known risk factors of prostate cancer.
Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) is a cancer-promoting hormone, mainly increased with the consumption of animal protein. This is seen to be lower in people who consume a WFPBD.
A whole food plant-based diet is rich in nutrients that help reduce chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, as well as abnormal cell growth. Image credit: PeopleImages via Getty Images
How can a vegan diet help prevent prostate cancer?
As a vegan diet naturally includes no processed meat products, there is a vast amount of nutritionally sound foods to consume that are much more beneficial.
Here are some dietary tips to help prevent or recurrence of prostate cancer:
- Eat real whole foods and avoid processed food
- Include one or two portions of cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage in the diet. These provide sulfuraphane, which prevents cancer8
- Make wholegrains like buckwheat, quinoa, brown or black rice, and barley your preferred complex carbohydrates. These feed the gut microbiota, are satiating, and help maintain a healthy weight9.
- Add one portion of legumes or beans to each meal as a good source of protein. The PREDIMED study10 showed consuming beans and legumes can reduce cancer mortality. I would like to add soya bean, edamame and soya products like tofu here too. There have been controversies regarding the use of soya products in men, but the evidence is that isoflavones and phytoestrogens in soya are associated with a reduced risk of cancer in the prostate11.
- ‘Eat a rainbow’ and try to add as many colours of fruits and vegetables in your meals. This will add a variety of fibre plus lots of different vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and phytonutrients. Lycopene in tomatoes helps lower IGF-1 and suppresses the proliferation and progression of cancer cells12.
- Using curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric helps reduce inflammation and may stop the spread and growth of cancer cells13.
- Adding in a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseeds every day may help to prevent prostate cancer from advancing further, as research shows the lignans in flaxseed slows the rate of growth of cancerous cells14.
- Choosing healthy plant-based fats like nuts (pistachios specifically), seeds, avocados, and extra-virgin olive oil, means the metabolic rate will be reduced, resulting in good circulation and fewer chances of erectile dysfunction15.
Eating a rainbow of plant-based whole foods can help prevent the recurrence of prostate cancer. Image credit: istetiana via Getty Images
Focussing on your diet is an important pillar of looking after well-being to prevent prostate cancer.
However, it is important to mention that regularly exercising, getting adequate sleep of 7-8 hours every night, managing stress, and having a positive social circle are also vital.
I hope this article gives you some simple steps that may help in looking after your well-being, whether you are wanting to reduce the risk of prostate cancer or prevent future recurrence.
After all, there are absolutely no negative side effects with these whole food plant-based and lifestyle tips.
Read more to find out how to prevent cancer with a plant-based diet.
Feature image: Prostock Studio via Getty Images
- Gann P. H. (2002). Risk factors for prostate cancer. Reviews in urology, 4 Suppl 5(Suppl 5), S3–S10.
- Prostate Cancer UK (n.d.). Black men and prostate cancer [Internet]. Available at: https://prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/are-you-at-risk/black-men-and-prostate-cancer [accessed 7 September 2022]
- Barber, L., Gerke, T., Markt, S. C., Peisch, S. F., Wilson, K. M., Ahearn, T., Giovannucci, E., Parmigiani, G., & Mucci, L. A. (2018). Family History of Breast or Prostate Cancer and Prostate Cancer Risk. Clinical cancer research : an official journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, 24(23), 5910–5917. https://doi.org/10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-18-0370
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- Oxford Population Health CEU (n.d.) EPIC-Oxford [Internet] Available from: https://www.ceu.ox.ac.uk/research/epic-oxford-1/oxford-vegetarian-study [accessed 7 September 2022]
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