Can Going Vegan Reduce Prostate Cancer Risk?

If you want to learn about a cancer prevention diet, you’ve come to the right place.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men. 

With many new cases diagnosed each year, an increasing number of men, their families, and friends ask for information about how best to reduce their risk of developing the disease. 

Like many types of cancer, the chance of developing prostate cancer is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. 

Family history of the disease, obesity, and infection can increase your risk of prostate cancer. 

Below, we explore the role of diet in the development of prostate cancer and discuss approaches to ensure a balanced and healthy diet.

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Both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development and progression of prostate cancer. 

The evidence suggests that dietary factors (e.g., heavy alcohol use), exposure to toxic chemicals (herbicides and insecticides), obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to prostate cancer development and progression.

Studies on the prevalence of prostate cancer across ecological locations and on people moving from one country to another suggest that diet is important in prostate cancer development and progression (Ma and Chapman, 2009). 

It is established that the incidence of prostate cancer is lower in regions where people consume plant foods and low-fat diets compared to areas with majorly animal-fat diets (Hebert et al., 1998). 

Further, men from low-risk countries may experience several fold-increase in their prostate cancer risk when they move to countries with westernized diets, characterized by a high animal and fat diet (Shimizu et al., 1991).

Many countries have also seen a significant increase in prostate cancer rates in recent years because of development-mediated dietary transition towards a more western-type diet. 

This type of diet can increase obesity, which leads to changes in the rate of inflammation and levels of specific growth factors known to promote prostate cancer growth (Aronson et al., 2010). 

However, confounders often limit epidemiological studies that generated these observations and their inability to show cause and effect. 

A standard western diet has many components, including saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, animal protein, fruits, whole grains, and cruciferous vegetables, making it difficult to pinpoint which specific element may promote prostate cancer. 

Indeed, the research community is conflicted on the full scale of the link between diet and prostate cancer (Hori et al., 2011). 

Can going vegan reduce prostate cancer risk?

A vegetarian diet has many health benefits, attributed to its higher levels of fiber, vitamins, protective phytochemicals, and a generally low level of unsaturated fat. 

Compared to other vegetarian diets, vegan diets tend to contain less saturated fat and cholesterol, reducing the risk factor of diseases. 

Fruit and cruciferous vegetables, such as leafy greens, contain a complex mixture of phytochemicals that exhibit potent anti-cancer activity. 

Conversely, several studies have shown a positive association between prostate cancer and the consumption of red meat, total animal fat, and fatty animal foods. 

Therefore, a vegan diet can reduce the risk of prostate cancer through the protective effect of phytochemicals and the elimination of dangerous animal fat. 

It is important to note that eliminating all forms of animal products from one’s diet may increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies. 

Such nutritional issues can reduce the quality of life or indirectly increase the risk of prostate cancer if left unresolved.

In a prospective cohort study, Tantamango-Bartley et al., investigated the association between dietary patterns (including non-vegetarian, vegan, and semi-vegetarian) and prostate cancer incidence among 26,346 male participants. 

They observed 1079 incidents of prostate cancer cases across the cohort, with vegan diets showing significant protective association with prostate cancer. 

Unfortunately, analysis by race showed that only whites experienced significant protective benefits from vegan diets. 

These results suggest that vegan diets may lead to a reduced risk of prostate cancer for some groups and not others. 

Many components of vegan diets can protect against prostate cancer individually. 

However, we need further research to investigate reducing your prostate cancer risk factor(s) through a vegan lifestyle. 

There are many unanswered questions about how diet and prostate cancer are linked. 

Research studies haven’t provided strong evidence that a vegan diet offers significant protection against prostate cancer for all groups.  

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GMOs, pesticides, and cancer risk

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living things that have been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. 

In the context of agricultural production, these modifications help to increase herbicide tolerance or insect resistance.

There is no reliable evidence to suggest that GMO foods cause cancer. 

According to the USA National Academy of Sciences, GMO foods are as safe as non-GMO foods. 

On GMO and pesticides, because some GMO crops are resistant to herbicides, farmers could theoretically use high levels of herbicides, which could accumulate to harmful amounts. 

Given that herbicide residuals can cause cancer (Eriksson et al., 2008), this suggests a potential indirect GMO effect. 

However, farming regulations and other best practices can quickly remedy such unintended consequences.

There are many myths about prostate cancer development and progression, including GMOs.

However, they lack evidence to support their role in cancer. 

However, there are proven causes of prostate cancer (discussed below) and how to reduce your risk.

Prostate cancer risk factors

Family history of prostate cancer 

Family history is a strong predictor of a prostate cancer diagnosis. 

Prostate cancer patients are likely to have a first-degree relative with a history of the disease. 

Age 

Increasing age is associated with a high incidence of prostate cancer. 

More than 50% of men over 65 years will get prostate cancer compared to 3.5% for men under 50 years. 

Race 

Prostate cancer incidence exhibits significant variations between geographical regions and racial groups. 

Substance exposure 

Chemical agents can increase the risk of prostate cancer development. 

The relationship between alcohol, cigarette, and several types of human cancers has been established. 

Other chemical compounds linked to prostate cancer include herbicides (chemicals used to kill plants), insecticides, and other organic compounds. 

These chemicals can enter foods through soil contamination. 

Infection and inflammation 

Infection can increase cancer risk through inflammation and cell transformation (typically observed in viral infections). 

Diet 

Several dietary factors contribute to the development of prostate cancer. 

This cancer’s most important nutritional factors are total energy consumption, fat, calcium content, and antioxidant levels.

Obesity 

Obesity, combined with an inactive lifestyle and a high-fat diet, increases prostate cancer risk and progression.

Luckily, there are positive lifestyle and health choices to adjust your modifiable risk factors and reduce the risk of this disease. 

You cannot control some risk factors like age and inherited genetic variants.

But physical activity, low-fat diet, smoking cessation, and moderate alcohol are potent tools to reduce your risk.

How to build a cancer prevention diet

The key to cancer prevention through diet is to eat a well-balanced, healthy diet.

  • Plant-based 
  • Plenty of fruits and vegetables 
  • High in fiber 
  • Low in fat, especially animal fat
  • Low in simple sugars

Here, this dietary pattern of a plant-based diet will allow you to take advantage of their phytochemicals, such as carotenoids and lycopene, which can protect against cancer. 

Further, this healthy eating diet reduces your body weight and the associated health complication leading to cancer.

Other lifestyle tips for cancer prevention

A balanced diet can reduce oxidative stress and improve immune function.

But healthy food and diet are just one piece of the puzzle. 

Combining dietary changes with other lifestyle changes such as physical activity can reduce PSA levels, inflammation, and control androgen activity. 

It is important to note that once there is prostate cancer treating the cancer is the best course of action. 

The appropriate cancer treatment will depend on the disease stage. 

It may include one or more of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or immunotherapy to treat or manage prostate cancer.

Conclusion

Prostate cancer remains a significant health care problem. 

When diagnosed early, it can be cured using surgery or radiation therapy. 

However, many patients develop advanced diseases that spread to the lymph nodes and bones (metastases). 

There is no treatment for metastatic prostate cancer

Men applying prevention strategies long before cancer initiation could reduce their risk of prostate cancer, including a substantial positive impact on their quality of life. 

Research efforts are ongoing to identify practical preventive approaches for many cancers.

But no drugs prevent the development of prostate cancer. 

You can make positive lifestyle choices to adjust your modifiable risk factors and reduce the risk of this disease. 

You cannot control risk factors like age and inherited genetic variants.

But physical activity, nutrition, a low-fat diet, good microbiota, and moderate alcohol are potent tools to reduce your risk. 

They can reduce the lifetime risks of prostate cancer development, the morbidities associated with cancer treatment, especially in those newly diagnosed patients.

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Sources

  1. Aronson, W.J., Barnard, R.J., Freedland, S.J., Henning, S., Elashoff, D., Jardack, P.M., Cohen, P., Heber, D., Kobayashi, N., 2010. Growth inhibitory effect of low fat diet on prostate cancer cells: results of a prospective, randomized dietary intervention trial in men with prostate cancer. J. Urol. 183, 345–350. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19914662/
  2. Eriksson, M., Hardell, L., Carlberg, M., Åkerman, M., 2008. Pesticide exposure as risk factor for non‐Hodgkin lymphoma including histopathological subgroup analysis. Int. J. Cancer 123, 1657–1663.
  3. Hebert, J.R., Hurley, T.G., Olendzki, B.C., Teas, J., Ma, Y., Hampl, J.S., 1998. Nutritional and socioeconomic factors in relation to prostate cancer mortality: a cross-national study. J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 90, 1637–1647. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9811313/
  4. Hori, S., Butler, E., McLoughlin, J., 2011. Prostate cancer and diet: food for thought? BJU Int. 107, 1348–1359. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21518228/
  5. Liu, R.H., 2004. Potential synergy of phytochemicals in cancer prevention: mechanism of action. J. Nutr. 134, 3479S-3485S.
  6. Ma, R., Chapman, K., 2009. A systematic review of the effect of diet in prostate cancer prevention and treatment. J. Hum. Nutr. Diet. 22, 187–199. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19344379/
  7. Pan, A., Sun, Q., Bernstein, A.M., Schulze, M.B., Manson, J.E., Stampfer, M.J., Willett, W.C., Hu, F.B., 2012. Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Arch. Intern. Med. 172, 555–563. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22412075/
  8. Shimizu, H., Ross, R., Bernstein, L., Yatani, R., Henderson, B., Mack, T., 1991. Cancers of the prostate and breast among Japanese and white immigrants in Los Angeles County. Br. J. Cancer 63, 963–966. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2069852/
  9. Tantamango-Bartley, Y., Knutsen, S.F., Knutsen, R., Jacobsen, B.K., Fan, J., Beeson, W.L., Sabate, J., Hadley, D., Jaceldo-Siegl, K., Penniecook, J., 2016. Are strict vegetarians protected against prostate cancer? Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 103, 153–160. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26561618/
  10. Willett, W.C., 1997. Specific fatty acids and risks of breast and prostate cancer: dietary intake. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 66, 1557S-1563S.
  11. Zhang, S.M., Willett, W.C., Hernán, M.A., Olek, M.J., Ascherio, A., 2000. Dietary fat in relation to risk of multiple sclerosis among two large cohorts of women. Am. J. Epidemiol. 152, 1056–1064.

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