How can diet affect my risk for prostate cancer?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

It is believed that green tea, vitamin D, soy, legumes and omega-3 fatty acids may all reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Research is ongoing as to the precise benefits of these nutrients, but in the meantime eating more of them certainly couldn't hurt. Omega-3 fatty acids are the exception to the rule that high-fat diets increase cancer risks; found in cold-water fish like salmon, these fats have in some studies shown diets rich in them have reduced chance of cancer.

Soy proteins and legumes, or beans, contain chemicals that replicate the hormone estrogen, which seems to reduce prostate cancer risk. Green tea and vitamin D both provide the body with vital nutritional building blocks that some studies have suggested are linked to reduced prostate cancer rates.

Pomegranate juice, although not linked to most prostate diseases, can have an effect on prostate cancer. It contains antioxidants that may help slow the progression of cancerous cells. Several studies show drinking eight ounces of pomegranate juice daily slowed the increase of PSA, a protein that is used to measure the growth of prostate cancer. While these studies are promising, there is no conclusive evidence that pomegranate juice can prevent prostate diseases, or help men with prostate diseases live longer or healthier lives.

Researchers have looked at diet, vitamins and drugs to prevent prostate cancer. In this video, William Oh, MD, an oncologist at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, explains that while two drugs can reduce cancer risk, they also can cause harm.

A diet that is good for your heart is also good for your prostate, which means a Mediterranean or an Asian approach to eating—lots of fruits and vegetables, easy on the red meats, and eating foods with good fats like olive oil. There is some data that tomatoes, which contain lycopene, as well as soy products, may have some role in preventing prostate cancer. Two studies have shown that pomegranate juice and pomegranates may also have some benefit.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Research has shown that the risk of developing prostate cancer is as much as 45 percent lower in men who frequently eat foods that contain cooked tomatoes or tomato paste. For one, men who eat cooked tomato products 10 or more times a week have a 35- to 45-percent reduction in severe forms of prostate cancer compared with men who eat tomato products less than twice a week.

The key ingredient may be the folate, though for a decade it was believe that the cancer-fighter was lycopene, a substance found in tomato products. More recent research failed to show a link between lycopene and prostate cancer. However, there's no harm in adding cooked tomato products to your diet, and lycopene has been shown to reduce arterial aging.

Spaghetti sauce is the optimal food because it's cooked, and you need to eat a little fat to absorb the lycopene. But go light on the meatballs. Saturated fat has been linked to the increase and growth of prostate-cancer cells.

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Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The photochemical, lycopene, may be one of best disease-fighting compounds on the plate. Research suggests that lycopene found in tomatoes and tomato products may help prevent prostate cancer. Cooking the tomatoes as well as serving them with a tad of oil has also shown to enhance the body’s absorption of this photochemical. Watermelon, pink grapefruit and guava are other delicious food sources of lycopene.

Cancer-fighting chemicals, such as anti-oxidants, are found in many foods. One food rich in these kinds of chemicals is pomegranate juice. A recent study by UCLA researcher Allan Pantuck, MD, and colleagues found that drinking only 8 ounces of pomegranate juice a day had a significant effect on levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which is widely used as a gauge of prostate health. High PSA levels are a red flag for prostate cancer.

Pantuck's team enrolled 46 men in a study funded by the owners of POM Wonderful Co., the maker of the pomegranate juice used in the study. The men's overall PSA doubling time was nearly 4 times slower after they began drinking pomegranate juice. Sixteen of the 46 patients had a decrease in PSA levels—and in 4, PSA levels dropped by half. Pantuck says that some men in the study have been drinking pomegranate juice—and keeping their PSA levels stable—for more than 3 years.

Dr. Mark S. Litwin, MD

The evidence is inconclusive on prostate cancer prevention and diet. Considerable investigation has focused on certain supplements and dietary modifications. The data are not overly convincing about whether you should take certain vitamins, avoid certain foods or eat certain foods. A diet that's low in fat and high in fiber is beneficial. It is also thought that a diet that's high in soy may be protective against prostate cancer. Very early evidence suggests that pomegranate extract may be beneficial.

Certain elements of the Western diet may have an impact on the development and progression of prostate cancer. In particular, it is thought that a high-fat diet and highly processed foods may accelerate the progression of prostate cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids found in many fish products are thought to be protective. Overall, there's a lot that doctors don't know about diet and prostate cancer.

Recent studies have shown that pomegranate juice can help slow the progression of prostate cancer and may also prevent prostate cancer from worsening. Phytochemicals (specifically ellagic acid) and other antioxidants found in pomegranates have been shown to disrupt the interaction between testosterone and prostate cancer cells thus preventing the cancer from spreading to bones and/or causing these cancer cells to die. While these results are promising, they are only preliminary studies and more research must be conducted. 

If, however, you do choose to consume pomegranate juice, please consult with your doctor beforehand. Evidence exists showing this juice can affect the metabolism of numerous prescription drugs including anticoagulants (blood thinners, including warfarin (Coumadin) and certain hypertension and hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) medications.

For more information, read my blog:

Diet seems to play a role as a risk factor for prostate cancer, but it is not clear-cut. Fat in the diet has been suggested to increase risk, but other research indicates that men who eat a high-fat diet also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables and more dairy products and that these may be responsible for some of the increased risk that has been attributed to fat. Recent research has suggested that a diet high in calcium and low in fructose (fruit sugar) increases prostate cancer risk.

There is good reason to believe that getting an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables in the diet may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Men who consume primarily vegetarian diets have been shown to have lower rates of prostate cancer, but there is no good evidence to establish if it is due to the fruit and vegetables or some other component of the diet.

There are many healthy reasons to adopt a lower-fat, plant-based diet. Eat at least 3 to 5 servings of vegetables a day, including 3 servings of colorful, nonstarchy vegetables and at least 2 to 4 servings of fruit. Green vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts and orange, red and yellow vegetables like carrots and peppers are best. Many cancer-fighting substances and other nutrients found in vegetables are best absorbed when accompanied by small amounts of fat. The monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and canola oil are the healthiest fats, and are good choices to include in salad dressings and other preparations. Avocados, nuts and soy are other good sources of monounsaturated fats.

Foods containing lycopene have the strongest evidence for protection against prostate cancer. Eating an abundance of it, which is found primarily in tomato-based products, has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

It is thought that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables as well as decreased sugar intake may be helpful in preventing or decreasing risk for prostate cancer. A lack of vegetables in the diet, particularly vegetables in the broccoli family, is linked to aggressive forms of prostate cancer, but not linked to nonaggressive forms. Alcohol consumption is not linked to prostate cancer.

There is some provocative data about the role of diet in prostate cancer. In general, things that are heart healthy are prostate healthy.

In Japan, the rate of prostate cancer detection is very low, but when you look at men who were born in Japan but moved to the United States at a young age, their rates of prostate cancer are similar to those of the rest of the population. Therefore, something about the Western diet or environment might be a risk factor.

Dr. Marc B. Garnick, MD
Hematologist & Oncologist

Although some foods have been linked with reduced risk of prostate cancer, proof that they really work is lacking, at least for now.

Instead of focusing on specific foods, dietitians, physicians and researchers tout an overall pattern of healthy eating—and healthy eating is easier than you might think. In a nutshell, here's what experts recommend:

  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Go for those with deep, bright color.
  • Choose whole-grain bread instead of white bread, and choose whole-grain pasta and cereals.
  • Limit your consumption of red meat, including beef, pork, lamb and goat, and processed meats, such as bologna and hot dogs. Fish, skinless poultry, beans and eggs are healthier sources of protein. In my clinical practice, I ask patients to limit consumption of red meats to only two to three servings per month.
  • Choose healthful fats, such as olive oil, nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans) and avocados. Limit saturated fats from dairy and other animal products. Avoid partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats), which are in many fast foods and packaged foods.
  • Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks, such as sodas and many fruit juices. Eat sweets as an occasional treat.
  • Cut down on salt. Choose foods low in sodium by reading and comparing food labels. Limit the use of canned, processed, and frozen foods.
  • Watch portion sizes. Eat slowly, and stop eating when you are full.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.