Prostate cancer has touched many lives due to the fact that it’s one of the most common types of cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. Age, race, obesity, and family history are just a few of the factors that determine whether someone has a greater risk of developing the disease. And now, a new study has found that eating an unhealthy diet that includes a fair share of processed meat can increase your risk of prostate cancer.
In a study that was recently published in European Urology, blood was taken from 12,000 people during the 1980s and 1990s. Data was also collected from the participants regarding various aspects of their lifestyles. Those behind the study then took a look at who was following a healthy lifestyle—that is, one that involved eating well (including a diet rich in fish and tomatoes, but not processed meat), maintaining a healthy weight, getting a significant amount of exercise, and not smoking—and used that information alongside a 2021 genome-wide association study. By doing so, they determined that men who had a greater genetic risk of developing prostate cancer reduced the risk of fatal prostate cancer by 45%.
“All men should be encouraged to engage in maintaining a healthy lifestyle given the benefits that produces. For men at increased genetic risk of prostate cancer, having a healthy lifestyle may be particularly important,” said corresponding author Anna Plym, Ph.D., of Brigham’s Division of Urology, according to EurekAlert! “Of the factors we studied, maintaining a healthy weight and doing regular physical exercise, as well as not smoking, appeared to be the most important factors.”
“I found the study to be quite enlightening, but given my understanding of healthy lifestyles, not overly surprising,” Dr. Dana Ellis Hunnes, Ph.D., MPH, RD, senior clinical dietitian UCLA Medical Center, Assistant professor UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and author of Recipe For Survival tells Eat This, Not That! “I think the most surprising aspect to most people would be how much diet plays a role in cancer risk, especially a heritable cancer risk, and how a healthy diet and lifestyle can attenuate that risk so significantly.”
Hunnes explains that a “healthy diet can decrease the risk of fatal prostate cancer because there are many foods (processed meats, processed foods/sugars) that affect hormone levels (testosterone/estrogen, etc).” Beyond that, “certain cancers, including prostate cancer, are affected by hormone levels, which might explain why men who drink high levels of cow’s milk (which contains naturally occurring estrogens), are at greater risk of prostate cancer than men who avoid cow’s milk and/or are plant-based.”
As for the specific foods referenced in the study results that may lower the risk of prostate cancer, Hunnes notes that “tomatoes with their high levels of lycopene (higher/more bioavailable when cooked) are well established as helping to lower the risk of prostate cancer, it’s an antioxidant and phytonutrient.” At the same time, “fish may lower the risk of prostate cancer because of their healthy polyunsaturated fats, which we can also get from plant sources including algae.”
On the other hand, “processed meats are known inflammatory foods which raise TMAO and IGF-1, which is an insulin-like growth factor, which can also affect other hormones in the body since everything is interconnected.” That’s why “eating processed meats and increasing inflammation and certain hormones can also increase the risk of certain cancers.”
To find out about how your diet can affect your chances of developing the disease, be sure to read Things That Ward Off “Deadly” Prostate Cancer.