Mediterranean Diet: Possible Prostate Cancer Prevention?

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Numerous studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to a reduction in prostate cancer risk and improved outcomes for men diagnosed with prostate cancer. But while typically touted for its benefits in losing weight and improving heart health, the effect appears muddled as far as its effect on the prostate.

“It is important to conduct more studies focusing on risk factors for prostate cancer by stage and grade,” said Ying Wang, senior principal scientist at the American Cancer Society. “In addition, the most recent nutrition and physical activity guidelines from the American Cancer Society found that men diagnosed with prostate cancer who consumed a Mediterranean dietary pattern tend to have lower risk of death from any cause.”

This may suggest that the Mediterranean diet may promote overall good health in some men, regardless of the presence of prostate cancer.

“While some evidence suggests that following a Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of prostate cancer in certain populations, it is important to replicate these findings in other populations and look at different prostate cancer outcomes,” Wang said. “Furthermore, it is essential to recognize that diet is just one of many factors that can contribute to the development of cancer.”

She added that other factors, such as age, family history and race and ethnicity cannot be controlled. However, “avoiding tobacco use, maintaining a healthy body weight, engaging in regular exercise and limiting alcohol consumption, also help to lower the risk of developing prostate cancer.”

Sue Czap, registered dietitians with URMC, said that the Mediterranean diet includes “more nutrient-dense foods as they’re rich in phytonutrients, or plant nutrients. They’re antioxidants and anti-inflammatories and lycopene. As they’re minimally processed, these are retained.

“The Mediterranean diet is high in dietary fiber which has a lot of health benefits. You have fewer empty calories. That is associated with a healthier weight and that’s associated with reduced risk for cancer.”

In addition, men should avoid alcohol or limit their consumption to no more than two servings daily.

“It’s best not to drink alcohol,” Czap said. “Alcohol is associated with several cancer types.”

As for the two-per-day limit for men who drink, Czap said it’s not something that can be rolled over for a weekend binge.

Processed foods, cured meat and sugar should be eliminated and red meat should be minimized.

“It’s not necessarily the fat content; it has to do with the chemical composition of the meat and nutrient composition,” she said.  “Fish is part of a Mediterranean diet. Eat it a couple times a week, and whole foods, as close as possible to their original state. Salmon, tuna steaks and tuna fillets are good sources of omega-3s which are anti-inflammatory.”

Meatless entrees, such as those containing black beans, chickpeas or lentils, should dominate the diet. Czap said that red meat includes pork.

Mark Richardson, coordinator for Zerocancer, a prostate cancer support group meeting in every second Thursday in Pittsford, said that from his research, it appears that the Mediterranean diet may decrease risk for cancer progression for those diagnosed but on active surveillance.

“Good nutrition may help reduce the risk of developing and slow the progression of the disease and prevent aggressive disease, but these tips should not be used in replacement of treatment,” Richardson said.