Diet Affects Prostate Cancer Risk

Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men.  Research suggests what you eat or choose not to eat may help in prevention.

Genetics account for only an estimated 5 to 10 percent of prostate cancer  risk, according to the American Cancer Society. Age increases risk, and ethnic  background also plays a role. Men with a first-degree relative diagnosed with  prostate cancer before age 65 and African-American men are at double the risk,  and perhaps this sub population should be extra vigilant with their diets.

The dietary factors linked with increased risk of prostate cancer are red  meat, dietary fat, saturated fat, dairy products and too much calcium. Factors  that lower risk appear to be plant foods high in carotenoids, lycopenes and  antioxidants like soy, fiber and fruit.

Men who consumed red meat (beef, pork or lamb) at least five times per week  had more than double the risk than those who had it less than once per week in  Harvard’s Physician’s Health study of almost 15,000 men. Other studies find  daily meat consumption to triple risk.

Nitrate-preserved cold cuts and charbroiled beef also appear detrimental  because they contain chemical compounds that affect DNA and cancer progression.  Consider substituting turkey or veggie burgers for beef burgers; chicken or  turkey sausage for pork sausage; hummus or tuna for cold cuts in sandwiches; and  vegetarian soy crumbles (found in the freezer section) for ground beef in chili  or meat sauce recipes. And try choosing red meat once a week or less.

This one change can help in other ways. For example, it will likely lower  total and saturated fat, which promotes production of sex hormones that affect  the prostate, and may create room on the plate for factors that offer protection  like fruits, vegetables, soy and fiber.

Excess milk, dairy products and calcium could be detrimental, too. Studies  find milk in excess of two glasses per day, high-fat dairy products like cheese  and ice cream and taking a calcium supplement raises the risk of prostate  cancer.

Dairy products may affect risk because of an increase in insulin growth  factor, which promotes tumor growth. Excess calcium needs vitamin D for  absorption, which pulls this important gene-expression nutrient out of the  bloodstream and away from helping DNA in cells.

Like red meat, consider limiting full-fat cheese and ice cream, and perhaps  try soy milk or vanilla soy milk as a substitute for cow’s milk. In one study,  drinking just one glass of soy milk daily decreased the incidence of prostate  cancer risk by 70 percent. Men should not take a calcium supplement unless  evaluated by a doctor or dietitian.

What to eat?

Eat two or more fruits daily, including tomatoes and tomato products;  generous portions of vegetables, including onions, broccoli, cauliflower and  other cruciferous vegetables as well as carrots, sweet potatoes and other  carotenoid-rich varieties. Also eat whole grains, lean proteins like fish or  poultry and vegetarian meals made from beans or soy.

Joan Endyke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in food and  nutrition. Send your questions to her at  This column is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. Check with your doctor  before changing your diet.

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