Sperling Prostate Center

Getting to the Root of Prostate Cancer Prevention

If a man develops prostate cancer (PCa), can he eat his way to a cure? Probably not, according to the MEAL study (Men’s Eating and Lifestyle). This research was conducted by a National Cancer Institute-sponsored cooperative group, the Alliance for Clinical Trials, which includes U.S. academic centers, cancer centers, and community hospitals. It’s a pretty big deal!

The MEAL study was “…a randomized clinical trial conducted at 91 US urology and medical oncology clinics that enrolled 478 men aged 50 to 80 years…” who all had biopsy proven low-risk PCa and all were on Active Surveillance.[i] Its purpose was to explore the effect of eating more vegetables on PCa progression. Participants were randomized into two groups: one group received phone counseling on eating more veggies, while the other received mailed print materials on diet and PCa. As it turned out, over two years there was no difference in disease progression rates between the two groups.

Well, no participant’s PCa disappeared, so two years of eating more vegetables apparently does not cure the disease. And, while it’s disappointing that the behavioral intervention (counseling) group had the same rates of progression incidents as the reading group, the study authors note that eating more vegetables has other health benefits—so there’s some consolation.

So, if you can’t cure PCa with vegetables, what about preventing it? Now we’re getting somewhere! Let’s talk specifically about two edible roots: beets and ginger.

Not everyone likes beets, which, like carrots and parsnips, have a unique flavor. However, those earthy and slightly sweet flavors are due to some important nutrients called phytochemicals that are rich in antioxidants. Beets are reported to have anticancer properties, both the dense round root itself as well as its leaves (beet greens). In a 2021 paper, a Brazilian research team tested both the root and the leaves against two different prostate cancer cell lines. They extracted two main compounds, apigenin from the roots, and betanin from the leaves. Apigenin reduced the proliferation of both cell lines, and in one of the cell lines diminished its ability to migrate. Both extracts were effective in lowering the number of colonies formed, and “presented strong inhibition of growth-related signaling pathways in both cell lines.” The authors concluded that beets offer “important anti-cancer effects against prostate cancer cells.”[ii] In particular, inhibiting genomic signaling pathways has implications for prevention.

And speaking of unique flavor, ginger root is a stand-out. It’s in the same family as turmeric, an anti-inflammatory spice that also has value in preventing precancerous inflammation. Much used in Asian dishes, ginger root adds a sharp tang and even a bit of fire to cooked dishes. These characteristics come from ketones called gingerols, a powerful component of the root. A group of researchers from Georgia State University studied the benefits of ginger root against PCa. They note, “Ginger has been known to display anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiproliferative activities, indicating its promising role as a chemopreventive agent.”[iii] Specifically, compounds in ginger root not only deter the growth of PCa cells and impair their ability to reproduce, they can actually cause the cells to die off. When they analyzed the effects of whole ginger extract in mice with PCa tumors, not only were the tumors’ proliferation activities reduced, but also widespread PCa cell self-destruction was observed—with no apparent ill effects on normal tissues like gut and bone marrow that divide rapidly.

Dietary comparisons also provide some evidence of food-based chemopreventive power. Although the interrelated roles of nature (genes) vs. nurture (food) are impossible to untangle, men in Asian countries have lower PCa-specific incidence and mortality than their brothers in Westernized countries, including the U.S. Vidal, et al. (2020) write that “…lower prostate cancer risk in Asian men may be due to biological, genetic, and/or lifestyle factors.”iv We know that diet plays a huge role, based on immigration studies. When Asian men migrate to the U.S., their rate of PCa increases—though it’s still lower than American men, suggesting that “… the Western lifestyle, particularly in relation to diet, plays an important role in the aetiology [cause] of prostate cancer.”[iv]

While eating root vegetables may not cure existing PCa, eating more of them may help “cause” a way to prevent PCa from beginning, or at least from becoming more aggressive. If you want to get to the root of the matter, open your taste buds to the experience of beets and ginger root.

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] Parsons JK, Zahrieh D, Mohler JL, Paskett E et al. Effect of a Behavioral Intervention to Increase Vegetable Consumption on Cancer Progression Among Men With Early-Stage Prostate Cancer: The MEAL Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2020 Jan 14;323(2):140-148.
[ii] Mancini MCS, Ponte LGS, Silva CHR, Fagundes I et al. Beetroot and leaf extracts present protective effects against prostate cancer cells, inhibiting cell proliferation, migration, and growth signaling pathways. Phytother Res. 2021 Sep;35(9):5241-5258.
[iii] Karna P, Chagani S, Gundala SR, Rida PC et al. Benefits of whole ginger extract in prostate cancer. Br J Nutr. 2012 Feb;107(4):473-84.
[iv] Vidal AC, Oyekunle T, Feng T, Freedland AR et al. Asian Race and Risk of Prostate Cancer: Results from the REDUCE Study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2020 Nov;29(11):2165-2170. v Baade PD, Youlden DR, Cramb SM, Dunn J, Gardiner RA. Epidemiology of prostate cancer in the Asia Pacific region. Prostate Int. 2013;1(2):47-58.


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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