Update Diet and Prostate Cancer Prevention

Since EN’s last coverage on diet and prostate cancer risk, some new findings have come to light. During the past several years, a large number of studies have looked at the potential role that diet can play in preventing prostate cancer, sometimes with conflicting results. Australian researchers hoped to clarify this issue in their systematic review published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics in June 2009. Scientific data for promising dietary therapies in prostate cancer prevention were reviewed. The researchers concluded that the best diet for preventing prostate cancer is one that is low in fat and high in vegetables and fruits, and avoids high-calorie intake and excessive meat, dairy products and calcium.

Lycopene in the Limelight. One plant compound that’s been singled out in the war against prostate cancer is lycopene, an antioxidant pigment found in tomatoes and other red fruits. The best source of lycopene is in tomato products, because the heat processing makes it more available to the body. Lycopene is just one possible nutrient that may be behind the protective effects of a diet packed with fruits and vegetables. The case for lycopene is strong enough that the American Institute for Cancer Research judges lycopene to be probable in reducing the risk of prostate cancer. Diets high in lycopene-containing foods (not supplements) could prevent 11 percent of prostate cancers.

The Selenium Question. More questions than answers swirl around the mineral, selenium, and its efficacy for prostate cancer prevention. Some trials on selenium supplements have shown it reduces prostate cancer risk. However, the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), a $118-million clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health to investigate whether the supplement could help prevent prostate cancer, showed different results. More than 35,000 men at 400 sites enrolled between 2001 and 2004 in SELECT. Initially planned for a follow-up of seven to 12 years, the participants were told in the fall of 2008 to stop taking their supplements, because it was found that selenium and vitamin E, taken alone or together, did not prevent prostate cancer.

Further, a study that evaluated 489 prostate cancer patients was published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Researchers discovered that a high level of selenium in the blood was associated with a slightly higher risk of aggressive prostate cancer. The risk was particularly higher in men who also had a variant of the gene coding for manganese superoxide dismutase (SOD2). The scientists urged men with prostate cancer to use caution when considering selenium supplements.

A Weighty Issue. Previous studies have suggested that obese men have a higher risk of a more aggressive form of prostate cancer and that weight loss can cut the risk significantly. A new Swedish study reiterates the significance of weight in prostate cancer risk. More than 10,000 initially cancer-free men from Sweden’s Lund University’s Malm? Diet and Cancer cohort were followed for an average of 11 years. The scientists found that body height and waist to hip ratio, a measurement of fat around the abdomen, was a stronger indicator of prostate cancer risk than general adiposity.

EN’s Bottom Line. For now, it looks like the best lifestyle strategy to guard against prostate cancer is to focus on a variety of plant foods (particularly those containing lycopene), limit high-calorie foods, avoid excessive fat, dairy and meat intake; stay physically active, maintain a healthy weight with particular attention to abdominal fat accumulation, and use caution with supplements like selenium Turns out that’s also the best odds diet for just about everyone.

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