Statistics show that more and more men have been diagnosed with prostate cancer over the last twenty years, and the disease is now the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK. Yet, despite these gloomy statistics, there is hope on the horizon. Mounting evidence suggests that the risk of prostate cancer is closely linked to what we eat. Just this month, research published in the medical journal The Lancet found that men who consume plenty of oily fish enjoy a significantly lowered risk of prostate cancer compared to those who don’t. Other research points to protective effects for foods such as fruits, vegetables and soy products. In addition, while some foods appear to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, others seem to have the opposite effect. Foods rich in animal fat, particularly dairy products, have been implicated here. Research is stacking up to suggest that with a few simple adjustments to the diet, men can do a lot to reduce their risk of developing this increasingly common condition.
Oily fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel and herring are rich is a class of healthy fats known as the omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are thought to have a number of important health-giving effects, including a natural anti-inflammatory action and the ability to reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease and depression. Over the last decade, there has been increasing scientific interest in the role omega-3 fatty acids may have in the prevention of certain cancers, including those of the breast and colon. Most recently, research has focused on the link between these healthy fats and cancer of the prostate. Two studies published in 1999 found that a high level of omega-3 fats in the body was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. This association is further strengthened by this month’s research which found that men consuming moderate or high amounts of oily fish in their diets were up to three times less likely to develop cancer of the prostate compared to those who ate none. In light of these findings, men wanting to reduce their risk of developing cancer of the prostate might do well to consume at least two or three portions of oily fish per week.
While fat from fish may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, evidence suggests that fats derived from animal products such as meat and dairy actually increase risk. Some of this research has focused on the role of dairy products in prostate cancer. In a study published in 1998 in the medical journal Cancer Causes and Control, high consumption of dairy products was associated with a 50 p.c. rise in prostate cancer risk. Another study published last year found that men consuming 2½ servings of dairy products per day increased prostate cancer risk by more than 40 p.c. An alternative to cow’s milk-based dairy products may be soya milk, yoghurt and ice cream. Soya consumption is associated with a very significantly reduced risk of prostate cancer. One study found that men consuming soya milk more than once a day enjoyed a 70 p.c. reduction in risk of this disease.
Cancer is known to be triggered in the body, at least in part, by damaging, destructive molecules known as ‘free radicals’. Free radical damage in the body and be reduced through an increased consumption of ‘antioxidant’ nutrients in the diet such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and the mineral selenium. Antioxidants are generally found in abundance in fruits and vegetables. These foods are also rich in substances known as phytochemicals (pronounced fy ” toe ” chemicals), some of which have cancer-protective effects. Last year, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that men consuming four servings of vegetables a day had a 35 p.c. reduced risk of prostate cancer compared to those consuming two servings of vegetables a day. Eating three or more servings of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbage) was found to reduce risk by about 40 p.c. compared to eating only one serving a week.
One particular nutrient which has received special attention for its role in prostate cancer prevention is the trace mineral selenium. A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published in 1998 found that men with the highest level of selenium in their body’s had about one third the risk of developing prostate cancer compared to men with the lowest selenium levels. This research comes on the back of a study published in 1996 which found that men supplementing with 200 mcg of selenium per day enjoyed a significantly reduced risk of prostate cancer, and had their risk of dying from this condition cut by two-thirds. One of the richest natural sources of selenium is brazil nuts. However, supplementation (at a dose of 200 mcg a day) does seem prudent for men wanting to give themselves the most assured protection.