Studies show prostate cancer is on the rise, but plant-based diet can ease progression

Sheah Rarback

This week two articles in my mailbox exemplified the concept of “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”

Since most of us like ending on a high note, let’s start with the bad news. An April 24 article in The Lancet predicted that cases of prostate cancer worldwide will double by 2040 to 2.9 million and and deaths will increase to 700,000. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men. The lifetime risk is 1 in 8 men will develop prostate cancer, and 6 out of 10 cases are in men over 65 years of age. Men, talk to your doctor about appropriate screening. Now to the good news.

A May article in JAMA Network Open addressed the topic of plant-based diets and disease progression in men with prostate cancer. There is not an official definition of a plant-based diet but it is generally thought of as heavy on the plants. Plant-based does not necessarily mean vegetarian.

This longitudinal observational study included 2,065 men with prostate cancer. The median time since diagnosis was 31 months. To determine diet pattern, a food frequency questionnaire was administered covering created three food categories.

The healthful plant foods group consisted of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, tea and coffee. Unhealthful plant foods were fruit juice, sugar sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes and sweets.

The third group was animal foods including dairy.

The follow up period was about 6.5 years. During the follow-up period there were 190 progression events and 61 prostate cancer related deaths. The good news is that men who ate the most plant foods had 47% lower risk that their cancer would progress than those who didn’t. And what’s more, a study this past February showed that a plant-based diet reduced sexual health side effects for prostate cancer patients.

There is no risk to a plant-based diet intervention. And so many potential benefits. Start small. Changing to whole wheat pasta, increasing the size of a salad or side vegetable with dinner, or having a meatless Monday are easy first steps.

Sheah Rarback MS, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist in private practice in Miami.