By: Dan Sperling, MD
In 1826, a Frenchman named Anthelme Brillat-Savarin published a text on gout from which we derive the quote, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” A century later, a 1923 newspaper advertisement for beef preceded the same sentiment with a word of caution: “Ninety percent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat.”[i]
Well, it’s more complicated that just what we chew and swallow. We are the genes we inherit, the way our environment shapes us, accidents of exposure to harmful substances, and much more. There is a booming business in books/programs on nutrition, over-the-counter vitamins and supplements, health clubs, etc. In particular, the relationship between cancer and food is the subject of interests ranging from clinical research to wishful thinking. The conflicting ideas and advice can be confusing.
Prostate cancer is the most common organ cancer among men. We know that the role of poor diet as a risk factor for developing the disease is real, as is the contribution of a healthy diet toward potentially preventing the disease—or even controlling it to a certain extent, as demonstrated in the work published by Dean Ornish, MD.
Dietary risk factors that are known to encourage cancer growth, including prostate cancer, are consumption of fats, estrogens and phytoestrogens, alcohol, tobacco, and charred food. On the other hand, eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish—at the same time restricting empty calories and getting moderate exercise—is correlated with reduced incidence of cancer.
Despite sporadic anecdotal claims of “curing” prostate cancer by dietary practices, there is no solid science behind any of such dramatic testimonials. On the other hand, despite the difficulty of mounting large-scale, randomized, controlled clinical studies (because of the multiplicity of factors, nutrition regimens, and heterogeneous populations), there is enough information on the value of healthy foods to guide common sense.
As a general rule of thumb, it is preferable to obtain the nutrients we need through dietary sources. Although there are hundreds, if not thousands, of supplements on the shelves of retailers, remember that they are commercially produced and consumed in isolation of Nature’s “formula” (namely, FOOD) that our bodies are well-designed to absorb most effectively and efficiently.
At the Sperling Prostate Center, we are not dieticians or nutrition consultants, but we encourage our patients to keep their total wellness—in addition to their prostates—in mind. Make healthy food menus and plans, shop wisely, eat plenty of fresh produce, substitute chicken or fish for red meat…and save those rich sauces and desserts for special occasions. Your investment in your total health is also an investment in your prostate health.