Can Your Diet Influence Prostate Cancer Risk?

The research is not clear-cut, but there are some healthy moves you can make to help prevent prostate cancer.

a young man crouches beside his food prep table as he sprinkles on the finishing touches of a meal

Updated on April 21, 2023.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the United States, after skin cancer, and it’s the second leading cause of cancer death, after lung cancer. Despite its prevalence, much about prostate cancer risk and prevention is still unclear.

Dietary supplements and multivitamins have long been touted as keys to prostate cancer prevention, but some research shows that certain vitamins—vitamin E in particular (when taken alone) and folic acid—may actually raise one’s risk. And anyone who’s consulted with a healthcare provider (HCP) on when to begin prostate cancer screening knows there are a range of opinions on when to start testing and what test should be used.

Although eating healthfully is recommended for overall well-being and disease prevention, the evidence for dietary approaches to prevent prostate cancer is similarly less than clear. Here’s what is known about diet as a preventive measure and what you can do in your daily life to help reduce your risk.

Overall eating patterns may hold clues

Definitive links between diet and prostate cancer risk reduction are hard to find. Some research has shown an association between increased intake of fruits and vegetables and lower risk, while other studies have failed to confirm the connection. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), based on the evidence to date, there may be some links between increased prostate cancer risk and high-fat diets and high intake of dairy products and calcium.

What has fascinated researchers is the way in which prostate cancer risk varies among countries and regions.

A 2020 review of studies published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that there might be relationship between what people eat overall and their risk of developing prostate cancer. One of the studies analyzed, published in 2018 in Cancer Causes & Control, looked at how broad dietary patterns (rather than specific nutrients) affected prostate cancer risk in Japan.

The study looked at 43,469 Japanese men and categorized their diets across several groups, including “Western” and "prudent” patterns. The Western diet was marked by high consumption of red and processed meat, potatoes, and high-fat dairy, while the “prudent” diet emphasized a higher intake of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and fish. Researchers found that the Western diet was associated with a 22 percent higher risk of developing prostate cancer, while people most closely following the “prudent” style had a decreased risk by as much as 29 percent.

While other, similar studies have not always found this to be the case, the International Journal of Molecular Sciences researchers noted that the gut microbiomes in different populations, which are highly influenced by dietary patterns, may hold clues to understanding prostate cancer risk.

Weight management plays a role

Another 2020 study published in the International Journal of Cancer of 220,622 men looked at a possible link between prostate cancer risk and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors that includes obesity, low HDL (high-density lipoprotein, aka “good” cholesterol), high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels. While the study did not find a direct link between the two conditions, some of the problems associated with metabolic syndrome seemed to increase cancer risk. In one Swedish study included in the analysis, for example, lower HDL levels were linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer of as much as 21 percent.

Previous research has indicated a link between obesity and prostate cancer, particularly abdominal obesity (that is, fat that accumulates around the belly) and more aggressive forms of the disease.

Move more and manage weight for a healthy prostate

Guidelines from the Prostate Cancer Foundation point out that, if you do get prostate cancer, a sedentary lifestyle increases the chances that it will be a more aggressive and dangerous type. Getting regular exercise, even just a small amount each day, may help to avoid this problem. And moving more in general while maintaining a healthy weight are important steps to help prevent prostate cancer in the first place.

If you find it hard to adopt a Japanese-style diet for prostate cancer prevention, try borrowing some of the basic principles from the Mediterranean diet. It captures many of the same concepts—fresh produce, plus lean protein and healthy fats from seafood—that may help you manage your weight and reduce prostate cancer risk.

When tweaking your lifestyle habits for a healthier prostate, there’s another good move that you can make today: quit smoking. While it isn’t clear how it affects the prostate specifically, avoiding smoking could help you avoid more aggressive forms of prostate cancer, as well as reduce your risk of other types of cancer.

Article sources open article sources

Matsushita M, Fujita K, Nonomura M. Influence of Diet and Nutrition on Prostate Cancer. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Feb;21(4):1447.
Monroy-Iglesias MJ, Russell B, Crawley D, et al. Metabolic syndrome biomarkers and prostate cancer risk in the UK biobank. International Journal of Cancer. Aug 2020; 148(4):825-834. American Cancer Society. Prostate Cancer Risk Factors. Page last reviewed June 9, 2020.
Prostate Cancer Foundation. Prostate Cancer Risk Factors. Page last reviewed May 14, 2022.
National Cancer Institute. Prostate Cancer Prevention (PDQ)–Health Professional Version. Page last updated March 2, 2022.
National Cancer Institute. Obesity and Cancer. Reviewed: April 5, 2022.
Shin S, Saito E, Sawada N, et al. Dietary patterns and prostate cancer risk in Japanese: the Japan Public Health Center-based Prospective Study (JPHC Study). Cancer Causes Control. 2018;29(6):589-600.
Van Hemelrijck M, Walldius G, Jungner I, et al. Low levels of apolipoprotein A-I and HDL are associated with risk of prostate cancer in the Swedish AMORIS study. Cancer Causes Control. 2011;22(7):1011-1019.
Lavalette C, Trétarre B, Rebillard X, Lamy PJ, Cénée S, Menegaux F. Abdominal obesity and prostate cancer risk: epidemiological evidence from the EPICAP study. Oncotarget. 2018;9(77):34485-34494. Published 2018 Oct 2.
Michael Hiroshi Johnson, M.D. Combat Prostate Cancer with Exercise. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed April 21, 2023.

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