Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer for men in Australia and New Zealand. It is caused by out of control growth of some of the cells of the small, walnut-shaped gland that surrounds the bladder opening in men. Some prostate cancers will grow slowly and never cause problems, but others grow more rapidly and can be life-threatening.
In Australia, over 19,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and over 3000 die from prostate cancer each year, and more than 90,000 men were living with prostate cancer in Australia at the end of 2014. In New Zealand, around 3000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 600 men die from prostate cancer each year.
Lifestyle factors, especially the standard Western diet, appear to play a major role in the development and progression of prostate cancer. One important contributor (shared by what is often considered to be the female cancer equivalent, breast cancer) is the effect of the Western diet on hormone levels, which the cells of the prostate are particularly responsive to. Prostate cancer rates are substantially lower in men in countries that do not traditionally consume the standard Western diet.
The nutrition prescription
A whole food plant-based eating pattern appears likely to help prevent the development of prostate cancer. It is likely that reduction in exposure to high levels of potentially cancer-promoting hormones across the lifespan will be responsible for a proportion of the benefit. Furthermore, research suggests that such an eating pattern, combined with other lifestyle changes, may help prevent progression or even promote regression of early-stage prostate cancer:
The Adventist Health Study-2 found that men following a vegan diet had a significantly lower risk of developing prostate cancer than men following a non-vegetarian diet.
Patients in a randomised controlled trial with early prostate cancer who followed a low fat plant-based diet (in addition to other lifestyle changes) demonstrated a 4% reduction in prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels after 1 year, and none progressed to requiring conventional treatment in this time.
Medical supervision of diet change
Shifting to a low fat whole food plant-based diet will often lead to rapid reductions in medication needs; men who are on medications for high blood pressure or prostate-related symptoms especially should seek medical supervision.
Video overview from NutritionFacts.org
Run time: 5 minutes
Patient recovery testimonial from Forks Over Knives
I decided to adopt a comprehensive, doctor-supervised program of lifestyle interventions.
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: prostate cancer topic summary and links to further articles.
Q: How does the Dr Ornish regimen differ from a standard whole foods plant-based diet, or a vegan diet?
A: Dr Ornish’s patients required a whole foods plant-based eating pattern that was very low in fat, in addition to other lifestyle changes including supplementation with soy, fish oil, vitamin E, selenium and vitamin C, moderate aerobic exercise, stress management techniques and 1-hour support group once weekly. For this reason it is recommended that anyone with established prostate cancer or strong risk factors refer to either Dr Ornish’s publications or book for further guidance (Ornish D., & Ornish A. (2019). Undo It! How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases. New York: Ballantine-Random House) and/or consult a credentialed plant-based doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist to ensure the appropriate prescription.
Q: What about benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)?
A: Similar to prostate cancer, rates of BPH are substantially lower in men in countries that do not traditionally consume the standard Western diet. It is highly likely that a whole foods plant-based eating pattern will enable many men to avoid BPH altogether, and that those who are already affected may be able to slow or even stop the progression of this condition and improve their symptoms.
Tantamango-Bartley, Y, Knutsen, SF, Knutsen, R et al. Are strict vegetarians protected against prostate cancer? Am J Clin Nutr 2016; 103: 153–160.
Ornish D, Weidner G, Fair WR, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer. J Urol 2005; 174: 1065–69; and discussion 1069–70.