Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men worldwide, and the leading cause of cancer death in men in the United States. While early detection and treatment can be effective, advanced prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body is much harder to treat. However, recent studies have suggested that a plant-based diet may have a role to play in slowing the progression of advanced prostate cancer.
A preliminary study by Dr. Dean Ornish showed that a plant-based diet and lifestyle program could apparently reverse the progression of prostate cancer by making men’s bloodstream nearly 8 times better at suppressing cancer cell growth. However, this was for early stage, localized, watch-and-wait prostate cancer. What about for more advanced stage life-threatening disease?
Case reports in the literature have suggested some benefits of a plant-based diet for advanced prostate cancer. One man with extensive metastatic disease, given maybe three years to live, went on a strict plant-based diet. Four years later, it appears the cancer had disappeared. However, case reports are just kind of glorified anecdotes, and you have no idea how representative the outcome is unless it’s formally studied.
Throughout the 20th century, all we had were these kinds of case reports… until 2001. So, researchers decided to put it to the test with a 4-month intervention study. They put ten men who had undergone a radical prostatectomy to remove their primary tumor, and then subsequently had increasing PSA levels, indicative of probable metastatic disease, on a whole food plant-based diet of whole grains, beans, seeds, and fruit.
Here are some of the key findings of the study:
Impact of Dietary Compliance
The study found that dietary changes only work if you actually do them. Only 4 men increased their fiber intake at all. Dietary changes take time, effort and discipline. While the researchers delivered the plant-based diet in the context of stress management to improve dietary compliance, compliance was still relatively low. The man whose fiber improved the most had the best PSA result, and the man whose fiber intake dropped the most had the worst PSA result.
Impact on Tumor Progression
In two men, the cancer accelerated, grew even faster, but in the other 8 men, the intervention appeared to work, apparently slowing down cancer growth, and in three it didn’t just slow or stop, but appeared to reverse and shrink.
The researchers concluded that a plant-based diet delivered in the context of stress management may slow the rate of tumor progression, and unlike other treatments, may give patients some control over their disease. And, as Ornish pointed out, “the only side effects are beneficial ones.”
While the study had limitations, such as a small sample size, it provides some promising preliminary evidence of the impact of a plant-based diet on advanced prostate cancer. The study highlights the importance of dietary compliance and suggests that the more change you make to your diet, the better your results. However, more research is needed to fully understand the impact of diet on advanced prostate cancer.
Can a Plant-Based Diet Slow the Progression of Cancer?
Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among men in the United States, with over 248,530 new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2021. While there are many treatments available, researchers are now exploring the potential of diet and lifestyle changes as a way to slow or even reverse the progression of prostate cancer.
Studies have shown that a plant-based diet may have therapeutic potential in the management of recurrent prostate cancer. In fact, a whole food, plant-based diet may be one of the best ways to help slow the progression of advanced prostate cancer.
Why a Plant-Based Diet?
The first question that comes to mind is, why a plant-based diet? Researchers have found that there are huge differences in prostate cancer rates around the world, with the US having rates up to a hundred times higher than some places in Asia, for example. Within one generation of coming to the U.S., cancer rates shoot up, and the grandkids end up with the same top-of-the-pile rates. A whole range of lifestyle factors have been looked at, but diet appears to have the greatest influence.
Specifically, consumption of meat and dairy appears to increase risk, and consumption of plant foods appears to decrease risk. This is why researchers recommend increasing intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and beans while decreasing meat, dairy, and refined carbs.
How a Plant-Based Diet Can Slow Prostate Cancer Progression
In a study conducted at UC San Diego, researchers found that eating a whole food, plant-based diet could help slow the progression of advanced prostate cancer. The study involved patients who were already treated for invasive prostate cancer by either radical prostatectomy or radiation therapy, yet had rising PSA levels suggesting the treatment didn’t work, and the cancer was on the move.
In those with a cancer recurrence, PSA levels typically rise exponentially, reflecting the gradual, inexorable growth of the cancer in the body. The rate of this PSA rise is the single best predictor of the development of overt metastatic disease, as well as of overall survival. The next step would be hormonal therapy, which is chemical or surgical castration, which has a list of side effects, including loss of libido and sexual function and strength and vitality. Therefore, researchers try to hold off on that for as long as possible, and instead give diet a try.
The patients in the study were taught to increase intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and beans and to decrease meat, dairy, and refined carbs. Over the course of six months, researchers found that nine out of ten patients showed an apparent slowing of cancer growth, and four out of nine showed an apparent reversal in cancer growth. The average doubling time, an estimate of how long it takes for their cancer to double in size, slowed from doubling every year to closer to every 10 years.
The Importance of Compliance
While the results of the study are promising, it’s important to note that compliance is key. In this study, patients did well at boosting their whole grain consumption, especially in the first three months, but then backslid a bit. They did eat more vegetables, including a serving of greens and an extra serving of fruit, at least early on, and at least ate one whole serving of legumes a day when they started. However, the researchers did observe some dietary recidivism by the end of the study.
A whole food, plant-based diet may be one of the best ways to help slow the progression of advanced prostate cancer. It’s not a replacement for standard treatments like surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, but it can be an effective complement. By increasing intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and beans while
with advanced prostate cancer, and it’s important to always consult with a medical professional before making any changes to one’s treatment plan or diet. However, these studies suggest that incorporating a plant-based diet may have therapeutic potential in the management of recurrent prostate cancer.
In conclusion, the studies discussed above highlight the potential benefits of adopting a plant-based diet in managing advanced prostate cancer. While more research is needed to fully understand the extent of these benefits, the results are promising and suggest that dietary interventions may be a useful addition to traditional treatment methods. By increasing consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes and decreasing meat, dairy, and refined carbs, patients may be able to slow or even reverse the progression of prostate cancer. Ultimately, the key takeaway is that diet and lifestyle changes can play an important role in overall health and wellness, particularly when it comes to managing chronic diseases like cancer.