Does Diet Affect Your Prostate Cancer Outlook?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on October 19, 2017Written by Corey Whelan

Diet and prostate cancer

There’s some research to suggest that diet may help prevent prostate cancer. But what effects do the foods you eat have on people already living with prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer found in American men according to the American Cancer Society. Approximately 1 in 7 men will receive this diagnosis during their lifetime.

What you eat may affect your outlook for this serious disease. Proactive dietary changes, particularly if you eat a typical “Western” diet, may help improve your outlook.

Read on to learn more about the connection between diet and prostate cancer.

What does the research say?

The impact of diet on prostate cancer is actively being researched. Several studies indicate that a plant-based eating plan is the best choice for men with prostate cancer.

Red meat, processed meats, and foods high in fat appear to be bad for those with prostate cancer.

Plant-based foods, such as soy, fruits, and vegetables, could have the opposite effect. Consuming these types of foods may help slow down the growth of prostate cancer in men who have it.

Men’s Eating and Living (MEAL) study

A federally funded study is currently underway to analyze the impact of diet on people with prostate cancer. The two-year Men’s Eating and Living (MEAL) study may help researchers understand if eating a diet high in plant-based foods can slow down progression of the disease. The study isn’t accepting additional participants at this time.

Participants in the study are men with small, low-grade tumors, who range in age from 50 to 80 years old. Some are in a control group, instructed to follow standard USDA dietary guidelines. This group doesn’t receive dietary coaching.

The other group includes participants who receive nutritional coaching to stay on a plant-based diet. It consists of:

  • nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables
  • two servings of whole grains
  • one serving of beans or legumes

This group is also forgoing immediate medical treatment for their condition. However, each participant is regularly monitored through PSA blood tests and prostate biopsies.

Blood samples from both groups will be compared at various points during the 24-month period to analyze antioxidant and nutrient levels. Disease progression and health-related quality of life for both groups will also be compared on a regular basis.

While it’s too early to definitively determine the MEAL study’s full impact, early results indicate that telephone coaching helps men increase their intake of healthy foods.

Foods to eat and avoid

If you would like to replicate the MEAL study on your own, foods to eat include:

  • Two servings daily of tomatoes and tomato products. Tomatoes are high in lycopene, an antioxidant which may have a protective effect on prostate health.
  • Two servings daily of cruciferous vegetables. Vegetables in this group include broccoli, bok choy, Brussel sprouts, horseradish, cauliflower, kale, and turnips. These vegetables are high in isothiocyanates, which may help protect against cancer.
  • At least one serving daily of vegetables and fruits high in carotenoids. Carotenoids are a family of antioxidants found in your orange and dark green vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, winter squash, and dark green, leafy vegetables.
  • One to two servings daily of whole grains. High-fiber, whole-grain foods include oatmeal, quinoa, barley, millet, buckwheat, and brown rice.
  • At least one serving daily of beans or legumes. High in protein and low in fat, beans and legumes include soybeans and soybean products, lentils, peanuts, chickpeas, and carob.

It’s not only what you eat, but what you don’t eat that counts. The study allows for only one serving a day of any of the following:

  • 2 to 3 ounces of red meat
  • 2 ounces of processed meat
  • other sources of saturated animal fat, such as 1 Tbsp butter, 1 cup whole milk, or two egg yolks

Can diet cure prostate cancer?

Not even the healthiest diet should be used as the sole treatment for prostate cancer. A diet low in animal fat and high in vegetables appears to have a positive effect on tumor growth. However, medical treatment is still needed in order to effectively treat the disease, and to eliminate or reduce recurrence.

It’s important to remember that the men enrolled in the MEAL study are monitored closely for disease progression. If you decide to replicate their meal plans on your own, you must also remain vigilant about prescribed treatments and keep all of your medical appointments.

Diet and lifestyle during treatment

Prostate cancer treatment may include:

Some of these treatments may have side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, or loss of appetite.

Maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle during treatment may sometimes be challenging. But it is achievable and may help to avoid recurrence of the disease. Diet is only part of a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few other action items to keep in mind:

  • Keep active by maintaining a social calendar or attending a support group.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity has been linked to adverse outcomes in men with prostate cancer.
  • Find an exercise you enjoy and make it part of your regular routine. Walking, swimming, and lifting weights are all good choices.
  • Eliminate or reduce use of tobacco products, such as cigarettes.
  • Eliminate or reduce alcohol consumption.

Recovery

Men who are overweight or obese are more likely to have a recurrence or succumb to the disease than those with a body mass index in the normal range. In addition to reducing red meat and saturated fat from your diet, make sure to eat foods high in lycopene as well as cruciferous vegetables.

The takeaway

A diet low in red meat and animal products, and high in plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruits, may help to slow down the progression of prostate cancer and reduce tumor growth. Good nutrition may also help reduce the recurrence of the disease.

While beneficial, healthy eating should never take the place of medical intervention or supervision while managing cancer.

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