Sperling Prostate Center

Animal or Vegetable? Protein and Prostate Cancer

Dr. Mark Scholz (Prostate Cancer Research Institute) is a respected authority on prostate cancer (PCa). Many patients subscribe to the PCRI youtube channel where he responds to questions his viewers post at his channel. Since he is an oncologist, the questions he’s asked often refer to advanced or metastatic PCa. Sometimes, though, he addresses topics that concern every man who is striving for optimum prostate health. Diet is one such topic. Dr. Scholz keeps track of research that links food with cancer.

In a 1-minute video clip, Dr. Scholz is asked if he has seen dietary effects on a patient’s PSA in his own practice. He cites post-prostatectomy patients whose PSA should fall to zero after surgery and stay there. If a subsequent PSA test registers even a small amount, the assumption is that PCa is still somewhere in the patient’s body. As he points out, “All of the PSA is coming from the cancer and there’s no background noise from the gland, the prostate gland, because it’s been surgically removed.”

Uh oh. This is not good news for the patient who went through an operation to remove his prostate, and went through a recovery process in which he had to wear a catheter, then endure the probable urine leakage that most patients go through until it subsides, and possibly have to live with a period of erectile dysfunction while hoping that Mother Nature will revive. Now he is faced with the disappointing reality that the surgery did not get all the PCa. What’s next? He’ll likely go on hormone therapy, special imaging to locate where the prostate is, and possible treatments targeted to those locations.

However, Dr. Scholz has seen patients who turned to a radical lifestyle change. Their PSA was rising at a certain rate. They implemented what Scholz terms “a rigorous vegetarian diet.” As a result, they achieve a slowdown in the rate of rising PSA, and sometimes even stabilization. He concludes, “It validates other lines of evidence that prostate cancer feeds off of animal protein.”

I want to repeat what Scholz stated simply and bluntly: prostate cancer feeds off of animal protein. This bold position drove me to another site known for research into PCa, the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). In addition to academic articles for clinical professionals, they offer educational materials for their lay audience like their research summary, Animal Protein and Cancer Risk.

Prostate cancer is mentioned 18 times. If you’re expecting it’s only connected to red meat—as I have blogged about in connection with general wellness and cooking over high heat—but to other animal products including chicken, fish, and dairy. While the research results are admittedly mixed, I decided to come at it another way: do people who eat a strict plant-based diet have lower rates of cancer?

It appears they do. An article from the Mayo Clinic titled Plant power: using diet to lower cancer risk notes,

Plant-based diets are full of fruits, vegetables and legumes, with little or no meat or other animal products. In research studies, vegans, people who don’t eat any animal products, including fish, dairy or eggs, appeared to have the lowest rates of cancer of any diet. The next lowest rate was for vegetarians, people who avoid meat but may eat fish or foods that come from animals, such as milk or eggs.

There it is. Dr. Scholz himself witnessed post-prostatectomy patients who were experiencing recurrence in the form of a telltale rise in PSA, or biochemical recurrence, able to influence their PSA by slowing it down or even stopping the rise. Although this in no way implies that they are “curing” their PCa, it shows the power of switching to a plant-based diet. In cases of recurrence, it can only help support whatever clinical treatment protocol their medical team recommends. The idea is, make it easier for the treatment to work by using a natural way to prevent the cancer from pirating fuel.

Dr. Scholz’s comment referred to patients with advanced PCa. I want to share an important UCSF study by Dean Ornish and others, done as far back as 2008.[i] Their persuasive research, “Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention,” involved patients with early stage, low risk localized PCa. The full paper is well worth reading, but here’s what I want to share, because it pertains to preventing PCa through diet and other lifestyle choices. The authors demonstrated that a 3-month program (low fat whole foods plant-based diet, moderate exercise, stress management/yoga/meditation, social support and a few supplements) actually changed the genes connected with tumor activity! It “switched on” molecular mechanisms that help downregulate cancer activity, and “switched off” molecular mechanisms that promote cancer growth and progression. The point of the article was, you CAN change your genes!

Diet is not the only factor in promoting optimum general wellness and prostate health, but it’s a powerful one. The Stanford twins study, like the Ornish study, made a compelling case that even a short term plant-based diet can make a dramatic difference. If you’re not ready to give up animal protein, you can make a step in that direction by gradually increasing the proportion of vegetables, grains, fruits, seed and nuts in your meals, and gradually decreasing the size and frequency of meat and dairy. Life does not come with a guarantee, but it does come with potentially better health to reward wise choices. If you endeavor to live prostate-healthy and cancer-free, think plant-forward.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Ornish D, Magbanua MJ, Weidner G, Weinberg V et al. Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jun 17;105(24):8369-74.


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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