Think of all the kinds of cancers that are familiar to you. What do they have in common? When I think of cancer words that come to mind are prostate, breast, ovarian, colon, stomach, and skin. Think of what these similarities entail. The kinds of cancer that we commonly see are those arising in sex-hormone controlled organs like the prostate, breast, uterus, and ovary; and organs that aid in digestion i.e., the stomach, colon, liver, and esophagus. A large body of evidence suggests that eating habits are linked especially to these types of cancers. I will focus particularly on the eating habits associated with prostate cancer.
Leaving Western countries, the chance of encountering patients with prostate cancer radically decreases. Prostate cancer is far less common in Asia than in Europe or the United States. A man in Hong Kong is 50% less likely to develop prostate cancer than a man in Sweden. In China, an even less Westernized country, prostate cancer is even less likely to encounter. What is it about our diet that separates us from these countries? The consumption of animal products. Meat, milk, eggs, cheese, cream, and butter have all been linked to prostate cancer. What do these foods give our diet? A load of fat and NO FIBER.
In any matter involving your health, I believe it is important to have an understanding of the molecular level at which your body is participating. With this said, why is fiber important to living a cancer free life? The richer your diet is in plant foods (fiber), the more readily it makes the protein SHBG, sex-hormone binding globulin. SHBG binds to testosterone rendering it inactive until it is needed. Vegetables, beans, and grains are all high in fibers. Crucifers, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok coy, and kale all have cancer protective phytonutrients like sulforaphane and are great sources of fiber.
It is important to note here that new research has reevaluated the importance of testosterone on having an effect in the development of prostate cancer. I take caution in this research due to the increase in the prescription of Hormone Replacement Therapy that has enveloped our market, giving older men an opportunity to feel like they are 20 again by injecting them with testosterone.
Despite the "go-ahead" to inject men with synthetic, bio-identical testosterone, consider the process by which testosterone works in the prostate. Testosterone is carried in the blood to the prostate where prostate cells use the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase to convert it into dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. DHT promotes the growth of the prostate, in some cases growing too large, concernedly around the urethra. Cancer itself is a disease of unlimited growth fueled by our own biochemistry.
To further our evidence that a high fiber vegetarian diet can reduce your risk of prostate cancer, we
have seen that prostate cancer is less common in vegetarians and people who consume more vegetables
and fruits (Armstrong B, Doll R. Environmental factors and cancer incidence and mortality in different
countries, with special reference to dietary practices).
In addition to fiber, prostate cancer can be fought with a plant molecule called lycopene. Lycopene comes from the red pigment found abundantly in several fruits. A Harvard study of 47,000 health professionals found that men who eat plenty of strawberries and tomatoes have less risk of developing prostate cancer. Eating a serving of cooked tomatoes will release more lycopene. Other fruits high in lycopene are watermelons, pink grapefruit, and guavas.
According the the American Cancer Society, every year there are about 238,600 new cases of prostate cancer in the United States. Not all men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer need to seek immediate treatment. Doctors are able to monitor the progression of prostate cancer through blood tests for PSA, prostate-specific antigen. A steep rise in PSA indicates aggressive spreading cancer. In one study, 93 men were placed in either a control group or on a low-fat vegan diet. In the control group Dr. Ornish found that PSA levels rose 6 percent on average over a year. In the low-fat vegan diet group the PSA levels actually fell by an average of 4 percent over the year (Kolonel LN, Hankin HJ, Lee J, Chu SY, Nomura AMY, Hinds MW, Nutrient intakes in relation to cancer incidence). The danger in using only active surveillance and diet to treat prostate cancer is that cancer can undergo a process called metastasis. Metastasis is when cancer cells break off and spread through other parts of the body. Because of this, some patients find that proton therapy is highly effective for treating prostate cancer as well as more invasive surgeries that remove the cancerous cells from the prostate.
Dieting smart can reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer as well as keep existing prostate cancer at bay. Avoid animal products and minimize the use of vegetable oils. Introduce foods that are rich in fiber like grains, vegetables, beans, peas, and lentils. Do your own research on macrobiotic diet programs that may be of benefit to you. Prostate cancer is beatable.
This blog with special thanks to Foods That Fight Pain by Neal D. Barnard, MD.