Prostate cancer and the benefits of a plant-based diet

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“I think all men with prostate cancer should be referred to a dietician and exercise physiologist. It frustrates me that men don’t get proper nutritional advice – the danger is that they will try extreme diets that don’t provide enough nutrition,” he says.

One in six Australian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer by the age of 85 – so how strong is the evidence that eating more plant-based foods could help prevent it?

In 2022, British researchers reported a 43 percent lower incidence of prostate cancer in men who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, compared to meat eaters. A 2021 US study also linked a lower risk of fatal prostate cancer to eating more plant-based foods; another found that men with early prostate cancer who followed a Mediterranean diet had a reduced risk of their cancer progressing.

But there are still no specific recommendations on diet and prostate cancer from the World Cancer Research Fund, the highest body for assessing lifestyle factors and cancer prevention, says Clare Hughes, chair of the Cancer Council Nutrition, Alcohol and Physical Activity Committee.

“We need more research to draw a conclusion. It can be difficult to compare studies on plant-based diets because there isn’t one definition of ‘plant-based’ — it can mean a vegan, vegetarian, or even a Mediterranean diet consisting mostly of plants, but with some animal foods,” she says. .

“Some studies suggest a link between dairy products and a higher risk of prostate cancer, but again, the evidence is not strong enough to recommend avoiding them. ”

One in six Australian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer by the age of 85 – so how strong is the evidence that eating more plant-based foods could help prevent it?Credit:iStock

Still, the link between being overweight and a greater risk of 13 cancers, including advanced prostate cancer, is undeniable — and diets high in plant foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains may help prevent weight gain, says the Cancer Council.

“Each year in Australia about 5,300 new cancers are caused by obesity,” Hughes added. “We need to raise people’s awareness — our 2019 Cancer Prevention Survey found that while most people knew that being overweight increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, only 45 percent knew it was a risk factor for cancer.”

More plant-based foods can also be a win for men’s sexual health. Two other studies this year showed that men who followed a Mediterranean diet or another plant-based diet were less likely to experience erection problems. That’s no surprise. Erections need healthy blood vessels to carry enough blood to the penis – and blood vessels can be compromised by poor nutrition and inactivity. That is why gusty erections can warn of heart disease.

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“Men tend to drop the ball with nutrition and lack an array of micronutrients in fruits and vegetables that promote good vascular health – 96 percent of men don’t eat enough vegetables and 59 percent don’t eat enough fruit,” says Melbourne dietitian Joel Feren.

“Heart attack and erectile dysfunction are a double whammy, but diet can help reduce the risk of both. I’m a proponent of a Mediterranean diet – it emphasizes vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil, but allows a little meat. Men can improve their diet with small steps: fruit for breakfast or for dessert, some extra vegetables and one or two meatless meals a week.”

And speaking of blood vessels, that enemy of arteries, high cholesterol, has also been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer.

“The evidence is quite strong,” says Dr Andrew Hoy, head of the Lipid Metabolism Laboratory at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Center. His research has shown that high cholesterol can stimulate the growth of prostate cancer cells.

But it doesn’t work alone.

“High cholesterol, being overweight and obese, and elevated blood sugar are all factors that can contribute to the development of some cancers, including prostate cancer,” he adds.

“Tackling them all with diet and exercise will be more effective than just focusing on cholesterol levels.”

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