Will a change of diet reduce my risk of cancer?


MEN'S HEALTH MATTERS:Certain foods can help to protect people against prostate cancer, and other cancers, writes THOMAS LYNCH

Q I have read a lot recently about various dietary changes that can be made to help lower the chances of developing prostate cancer. I know that smoking is probably the most important factor in developing any cancer but is there any proof that any of these things make a difference? Are there any changes I can make to my diet to help reduce the risk of prostate cancer?

A Dietary and lifestyle factors have an impact on your risk of developing any cancer including prostate cancer.

Numerous studies have been done (and there are ongoing studies) to investigate the role nutrition plays in the prevention and even the treatment of prostate cancer.

It is very difficult to say categorically whether any one substance is helpful in decreasing the risk of developing the disease.

Repetitive damage at a cellular level can lead to cancer in addition to a person’s genetic susceptibility to prostate cancer.

Oxidation and inflammation are examples of the damage that cellular structures and DNA are exposed to. Oxidation is a chemical reaction in which elements react with oxygen to form compounds called oxides.

So it stands to reason that foods with natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties might have a protective role against the development of prostate cancer. General advice on lifestyle which may help include:

Lose excess body fat: obesity, especially around the central abdomen, is linked to many diseases. Excess body fat releases substances that promote inflammation and oxidation.

Cut down on sugar:

reduce your intake of refined sugar, ie, by avoiding “junk food”, and increase your intake of complex carbohydrates in the form of starch and fibre found, for example, in beans, cereals and wholemeal bread.

Exercise every day:

walk for at least 30 minutes daily. If possible, participate in resistance training or aerobic exercise. Increasing muscle mass helps to burn fat more efficiently.

Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day: cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage contain phytochemicals that induce antioxidant enzymes that may play a protective role.

Eat foods high in omega 3 fatty acids: this is a type of fat found in cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, herring and mackerel. It appears to be of benefit in a number of diseases including prostate cancer.

Red meat: eat red meat in moderation and avoid charred/burnt meat.

Drink alcohol in moderation: this means no more than 21 units of alcohol a week for men: one pint of 4 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) beer has two units, one bottle of 12 per cent ABV wine has nine units and a 35ml measure of 40 per cent ABV spirits has 1.4 units.

Stop smoking.

Although current evidence is non-conclusive, a number of specific foods may protect against prostate cancer. Increasing your consumption of the following foods is likely non-toxic and potentially beneficial:

Phytoestrogens, which may have a protective role in prostate cancer, are widely found in food, including herbs and seasonings (garlic, parsley), grains (soybeans, wheat, rice), vegetables (beans, carrots, potatoes), fruits (dates, pomegranates, cherries, apples), and drinks (coffee).

Green tea contains polyphenols which are potent antioxidants. There is a lower incidence of prostate cancer in the Asian population and the consumption of green tea among other dietary and environmental factors may be a reason for this.

Tomato sauce is high in a substance called lycopene. There are conflicting reports on its protective antioxidant role. However, two portions a week are unlikely to cause harm and so are recommended.

Pomegranate juice contains high levels of ellagitannins which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

A large clinical trial (The Select Trial) investigated the effects of vitamin E and selenium supplementation on the incidence of prostate cancer.

No protective role against prostate cancer was found. In fact, another study suggested that excessive multivitamin use may be associated with an increased risk of more aggressive forms of prostate cancer.

You should also be aware that the number one cause of death in patients with prostate cancer is cardiovascular disease.

Look up the American Heart Association website, www.americanheart.org, for further information on a heart healthy diet.

In summary, if you exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and eat a low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish, you could help reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer.

Further information on this topic, including prostate- friendly food recipes, can be found on the website prostatecancerfoundation.org.

This weekly column is edited by Thomas Lynch, consultant urological surgeon, St James’s Hospital, Dublin, with a contribution from Dr John Keane, who is senior house officer in surgery