En español | An estimated one in in six American men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime — a risk that increases with age — making it the second-most common cancer in men after skin cancer. But a growing body of evidence indicates that a healthy diet and exercise can ward off cancer in general and prostate cancer in particular, says nutrition expert Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
See also: 5 ways to help prevent prostate cancer.
Demark-Wahnefried says that men concerned about prostate health should follow the general guidance of the American Cancer Society (ACS) for eating to reduce cancer risk:
- A diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Avoid fats, refined grains and sugars
- Maintain a healthy body weight
That last point is key. "Probably the most important thing for men concerned about prostate cancer is weight management," Demark-Wahnefried says. "The data show clearly that overweight men whose body mass index is 30 or above are 34 percent more likely to get aggressive prostate cancer" than men whose BMI is below that range, she says.
Researchers continue to explore whether certain foods and nutrients have an exceptional impact on prostate cancer. Healthy eating pioneer Dr. Dean Ornish says his studies have confirmed that lifestyle changes similar to those he recommends to reverse heart disease — including a vegan diet and regular exercise — have been found to slow the growth of some prostate cancers.
An ACS report on prostate cancer risk factors contains similar findings. "Men who eat a lot of red meat or high-fat dairy products appear to have a slightly higher chance of getting prostate cancer," it notes. "These men also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables. Doctors are not sure which of these factors is responsible for raising the risk."
Additional ACS studies are under way to test whether compounds in tomatoes (called lycopenes) and in soybeans (called isoflavones) may help prevent prostate cancer. Other useful foods include pomegranate juice, which may slow the rise of PSA levels (the tumor marker measured in blood tests) in men after prostate cancer surgery or radiation therapy, and flaxseed, which may slow the rate at which prostate cancer cells multiply in men with early prostate cancer.