There is a saying that goes:
“A moment on the lips,
A lifetime on the hips.”
At the risk of stereotyping, I have heard women use this reminder that indulging a sweet-tooth may lead to buying a bigger size next season, but to be honest I can’t recall ever hearing a man say it. With a little modification, however, I offer this reminder to guys:
“A moment in the mouth,
Your prostate health heads south.”
What I lack in poetic talent, I make up for in my concern over how many prostate glands suffer from the typical U.S. diet. If you follow my blogs, you know that the Mediterranean and DASH diets are not only good for the heart and blood pressure, but also for the prostate. For readers who choose a plant-based diet, there’s ample science behind the added health advantages of excluding animal protein.
We have much to learn from cultures in which meat and meat by-products play little-to-no part in daily nutrition. An analysis of global prostate cancer (PCa) rates shows a wide variance. For example, in 2019 it was reported that North America has one of the highest rates at 73.1 cases of PCa per 100,000 people; compare that with Africa (26.6 cases) and Asia (11.5 cases.)[i] African numbers are particularly striking, because in the U.S. men of African descent in this country have higher PCa rates than men of Caucasian ancestry—and tend to develop PCa at younger ages—and these rates are 40 times higher than men who live in Africa. This may be evidence that refutes the theory that African-American men have a genetic vulnerability inherited from African ancestors who were brought to this hemisphere by the slave trade.
This brings us to diet as a prostate health hazard, as observed when men from an Asian or African country move to the U.S. For instance, men in Japan have one of the lowest incidences of PCa on the planet, but when they relocate to Westernized countries, their PCa rate increases.[ii] This trend has also been observed when migrants from other Asian countries or Africa settle here. While some believe this is an artifact of increased screening in America, most research points to dietary and environmental factors that influence developing the disease.
Diet and prostate health
Here are a few tips on eating for a healthy prostate.
- Reduce animal fats in what you eat. Dietary fat has been linked with PCa risk due to several mechanisms, including the production of inflammatory bio-compounds in the body such as circulating growth factors.
- If you eat meat, avoid cooking it at high temperatures which converts meat components into harmful chemicals that cause changes in cells. Also, consider reducing dairy products (milk, butter, cheese). Laboratory studies suggest that calcium and dairy fats together exert a carcinogenic effect on prostate cells.
- Eat for the diversity of gut microbiota. As our understanding of gut bacteria increases, the interrelationship between diet, gut microbes, and the body’s immune system and metabolism is more apparent than ever. According to Matsushita, et al., “…the prostate could be affected indirectly by cytokines and immune cells modified by microbiota in the gut or bacterial metabolites and components absorbed from the intestine that enter systemic circulation.”[iii]
- Eat more foods that are high in anti-oxidants, which protect against cell damage from free radicals. Research suggests that damage to cell DNA is a precursor to mutations that turn cancerous. Although there’s an enormous market for supplements, the body thrives much more on the vitamins and minerals that come from eating fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts.
- If giving up meat is too hard, gradually lower the proportion of red meat while increasing the amount of fish and chicken. In particular, fish that is rich is omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and trout is very good for prostate health as well as cardiovascular wellness.
Of course, not all research is consistent. There are published studies that have found no correlation between, say, animal fat and higher chances of PCa. In addition, many research projects have involved lab animals such as mice or rats, not human trials, so there’s a certain amount of hypothesizing that the results generalize to people. Finally, some men inherit genes that place them at greater PCa risk.
Still, the immense impact of healthy eating—and the harmful effects of so-called Western diets—are universally recognized. While we still have much to learn, it’s foolish to turn a blind eye to the obvious advantages of optimum nutrition. If something as simple as a proverb can help keep your attention on eating for the health of your prostate, repeat it daily.
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] Rawla P. Epidemiology of Prostate Cancer. World J Oncol. 2019 Apr;10(2):63-89. doi: 10.14740/wjon1191. Epub 2019 Apr 20. PMID: 31068988; PMCID: PMC6497009.
[ii] Matsushita M, Fujita K, Nonomura N. Influence of Diet and Nutrition on Prostate Cancer. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Feb 20;21(4):1447.