If you want to be grossed out, watch the 2004 documentary Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock. In case you missed seeing it, it chronicles a month in his life when he ate only McDonald’s food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. McDonald’s is hardly a fast food chain that specializes in fresh vegetarian meals. In an extreme form of the Western diet, for 30 days Spurlock lived (if one can call it living) on meat, cheese and refined flour. In terms of impact, it dropped a bomb on Spurlock’s health—thankfully it didn’t kill him, but as the days wore on, he felt miserable.
Our origins: activity and whole foods
A key factor that promoted human evolution/survival was the kind of food our remote ancestors ate.
…[T]he hunter-gatherers actively killed animals for food instead of scavenging meat left behind by other predators and devised ways of setting aside vegetation for consumption at a later date. … From their earliest days, the hunter-gatherer diet included various grasses, tubers, fruits, seeds and nuts.
The culture accelerated with the appearance of Homo erectus (1.9 million years ago), whose larger brain and shorter digestive system reflected the increased consumption of meat.[i]
Evolution of the prostate gland
Meanwhile, the hormonally-driven parts of mammals’ bodies were also evolving. Mammals appeared about 65 million years ago. The prostate came into existence in male mammals in parallel to breast evolution in female mammals. Professor Donald Coffey, PhD (Johns Hopkins University) tells us, “All male mammals have a prostate; however, the seminal vesicles are variable and are determined by the diet so that species primarily eating meat do not have seminal vesicles. The exception is the human, who has seminal vesicles and consumes meat, although this is a recent dietary change.”[ii] Of note, Coffey points out that the only other mammal at risk for prostate cancer (PCa) is the dog—a creature that is often fed scraps from its owner’s table.
The prostate is composed of several different types of cells, including its own population of stem cells. The instruction manual for stem cells is their DNA, and the cells are protected by various enzymes so their DNA does not get damaged. The “seeds” of these stem cells are responsive to male hormones (androgens), which cause them to grow in numbers, or shrink and disappear if deprived of androgens (e.g. castration, or androgen deprivation therapy for PCa). When the stem cells divide, they produce “stalks” called mature epithelial cells, which are the active factories for PSA and the prostatic fluid that is part of semen.
However, when the enzymes that protect the stem cells are harmed or destroyed, the stem cells’ DNA can become altered. Ultimately, this leads to the uncontrolled duplication of epithelial cells that we know as PCa.
Poor nutrition and prostate cancer
Dr. Coffey and colleagues have discovered evidence that when the prostate gland is inflamed, the inflammation generates free radicals that erode the protective enzymes of stem cells, leaving them vulnerable to degraded DNA. How does inflammation occur in the gland? One mechanism is poor diet, especially one that is heavy with meat.
To come at this concept from nature itself, Coffey looked for data from primates, the mammals that are closest to humans in evolutionary terms:
The fact that humans eat meat seems to be a mistake that nature never accounted for. In exploring this phenomenon, Dr. Coffey looked a few rungs further down the evolutionary ladder and found the pigmy chimp called the bonobo. Bonobos and humans have many things in common. Diet is not one of them. Bonobos are vegetarians. And they don’t get prostate cancer.[iii]
And, if animal models don’t persuade you, all you have to do is look at immigrants to the U.S. from largely vegetarian and fish-eating cultures, such as Japan and southeast Asia. Their native lands have a very low incidence of PCa compared with the U.S., but after a few generations here, their PCa rates begin to approach ours. The main culprit appears to be food.
The Western diet supersizes inflammation, not just your prostate, but most other systems in your body. Consider gradually integrating elements of the Mediterranean diet into your menus, with a goal of eventually substituting more vegetables, chicken, fish, and whole grains for your current Western-style meals.
This is no Aesop’s fable, but there is a moral to the story: Don’t supersize your sensitive prostate gland, or any other part of your body.
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.
[ii] Coffey DS. Similarities of prostate and breast cancer: evolution, diet and estrogens. Urology. 2001;57(4 Suppl 1):31-8.
[iii] “Exploring the Link Between Evolution and Prostate Cancer.” Brady Urological Institute. Dec. 22, 2015. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/brady-urology-institute/specialties/conditions-and-treatments/prostate-cancer/prostate-cancer-questions/exploring-the-link-between-evolution-and-prostate-cancer#:~:text=Yet%20one%20out%20of%20every,leftovers%20from%20their%20human%20masters.