Prostate Cancer Prevention: Can Proper Nutrition Help?

By Christopher R. Mohr, PhD, RD
man eating strawberries

Did you know that, not counting some forms of skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men? Every year, more than 220,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and more than 27,000 men die from it. There is no way to know for sure if you will get prostate cancer, and men have a greater risk of prostate cancer if they are 65 years old or older, are African-American, or have a father, brother or son who has had prostate cancer.

Can You Reduce the Risk?

While it's recommended that men discuss the benefits and risks of prostate cancer screening with their doctors, there's also the question if there's a way to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer in the first place. Lycopene, vitamin E and selenium are marketed to men as tools to reduce the chance of developing the disease. But is supplementation beneficial? Can eating specific foods help?

According to Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson, Jim White, RDN, most experts agree that men should get the recommended amounts of selenium and lycopene from foods rather than supplements. "Whether there is a direct correlation between prostate cancer and these minerals or not, an overall healthy diet contains both selenium and lycopene," says White. "While these minerals may not eliminate the risk of prostate cancer, their consumption contributes to overall health and that may be the best defense against any and all cancers."

No Magic Bullet

Steer clear of supplements or foods that are touted as "magic bullet" prevention tools. In fact, recently some research has emerged showing high levels of certain nutrients — including vitamin E — may actually increase risk. However, there are some actions that men can take to help them stay healthy.

  • Lose weight (if necessary). Overweight and obesity — more specifically, abdominal obesity, which is more common in men, is linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer. A 2011 study in Urologic Oncology showed that greater abdominal obesity was significantly associated with prostate cancer diagnosis.
  • Aim to eat 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day. Choose dark-colored fruits and vegetables more often. Dark colored produce, such as spinach, berries and orange bell peppers, have higher levels of many carotenoids and other healthful nutrients. Individually, these nutrients may not play a major role in prostate cancer prevention. However, when obtained from foods, these nutrients work with one another to promote health.
  • Replace less healthy, saturated and trans fats with their healthy alternatives — olive oil, canola oil, avocados and fish.
  • Exercise. One study indicated that men who had prostate cancer and exercised vigorously had a 61 percent lower risk of dying from the disease. Vigorous exercise was defined as more than three hours per week. For substantial health benefits, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults engage in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five times a week.

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