Mediterranean Diet: Possible Prostate Cancer Prevention?

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Ying Wang

Numerous studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to a reduction in prostate cancer risk and improved outcomes for men diagnosed with prostate cancer. 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, irrespective 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.”

The Mediterranean diet loosely aligns with the dietary portion of the American Cancer Society guidelines for diet and physical activity, which emphasizes a mostly plant-based diet.

“Men who are at elevated risk of prostate cancer may want to discuss their diet and other lifestyle factors with their urologist or other healthcare provider, particularly a registered dietitian nutritionist to help reduce their risk,” Wang said.

Avoiding Certain Foods

Why the Mediterranean diet appears to reduce the risk of developing cancer has to do with the type of foods consumed—and those that aren’t. It focuses on plants, nuts, seeds, fish and in general, whole foods. That’s a pretty good foundation for healthful eating, according to David Albala, urologist with Associated Medical Professionals of New York, which operates offices in Syracuse and other locations.

“We talk about it with patients,” Albala said. “It’s important because different diets can make a difference. There’s a growing body of evidence looking at foods to eat and avoid. Plant-based and Mediterranean diets can help with patient health for cardiovascular and prostate health.”

The foods to avoid include processed foods, cured meat and sugar. Red meat should be minimized.

“Populations that have high intake of sat fat and red meat have higher instances of prostate cancer,” Albala said.

He advises patients to read “Low-Fat Lies, High-Fat Frauds” by Kevin Vigilante, physician and Mary Flynn, Ph.D., as he has found it both easy to read and full of science-based information.

Although some associate the Mediterranean area with wine drinking, men concerned about prostate cancer should avoid alcohol or those who do should limit their consumption to no more than two servings daily. As for the two-per-day limit for men who drink, it’s not something that can be rolled over for a weekend binge.

Overall, “the Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest eating patterns in the world,” said Jane Burrell, registered nurse and associate teaching professor at SU.

What she doesn’t want men to think is that just a few dietary tweaks like adding a “superfood” to an unhealthful diet represents a silver bullet for beating prostate cancer. She advises eating an overall healthful diet as part of a healthful lifestyle of eating seasonal and local whole foods that are minimally processed.

“Summer is an ideal time to adopt Mediterranean eating patterns,” Burrell said. “Taking advantage of farmers markets is one way to eat seasonal and local foods. Longer days also allow for longer mealtimes with socialization around the dinner table. The Mediterranean diet is associated with lower rates of almost any chronic disease, including prostate cancer.”

To support good health, men should receive regular care from a healthcare provider, sufficient aerobic and resistance exercise, adequate sleep, stress management and avoiding substance use, including tobacco.