What about Diet?

Changing your diet may be difficult.  It takes time to plan meals and you may have to learn how to cook with different ingredients.  Practicing self-restraint at restaurants is particularly challenging.  But, all of this may be worth the effort for men with prostate cancer.  Prostate cancer tends to be very slow growing; therefore, how well you feed it over the years will have a lot to do with how much it grows. 

How do we know diet really matters?

First, over the many years that I have been managing men who have prostate cancer, I have seen a number of them accomplish PSA stabilization by following a strict vegan diet.

Second, clinical studies done with PET scans show that radioactive amino acids (animal protein) are rapidly absorbed into the cancer cells.  For men with prostate cancer, the best dietary change is to limit proteins and amino acids.  This means cutting back on meat and dairy and focusing on eating vegetables and grains.

Interestingly, many types of cancer feed on sugar, but sugar doesn’t seem to have the same growth-stimulating effect on prostate cancer that proteins and amino acid do. Now, don’t take that as a recommendation to start eating a lot of sugar. Remember, when consumed, simple sugars, like chocolates, create blood sugar highs which stimulate the release of insulin.  High insulin levels stimulate the release of growth hormone which can encourage cancer’s growth. Focus on eating complex carbohydrates, that is, carbohydrates in their natural state such as whole-grains and vegetables.  Complex carbohydrates provide longer lasting energy without creating an increase in insulin.

Other benefits of a plant-based diet

A vegan diet has also been shown to lead to weight loss.  Maintaining a healthy weight is important for people of all ages.  Being over-weight can lead to cardiovascular disease and other serious problems. Also, overweight men have higher estrogen levels, which lower testosterone.  Unless the goal is specifically to eliminate testosterone to treat prostate cancer, it is generally undesirable to have low testosterone.  Testosterone is responsible for muscle gain, energy, libido all of which are important for many men to have their desired quality of life.  By going on a vegan diet and losing some weight, testosterone levels may rise back into the normal range. 

How to start making changes in your diet:

As we mentioned above, when dietary changes you confront unique hurdles and all of this on top of managing your prostate cancer and receiving your chosen treatment.  So where do you start? 

  1. Talk to your doctor.  When considering a lifestyle change it is important keep your doctor informed.  They can help you monitor how your new diet or lifestyle is working and can also help hold you accountable to your plan.  Also seek second opinions; a doctor specializing in diet (a dietitian) can help you design a balanced meal plan.    
  2. Get organized.  Advance preparation makes cooking and eating healthy a lot easier.  Make grocery lists.  Experiment with cooking large meals and freezing or refrigerating leftovers to eat at a later time. 
  3. Know where to go.  Nowadays most restaurants cater in some way to plant-based eaters.  You can always check menus online or call ahead of time just to be sure.
  4. Check out online resources.  There are subscription-based meal kits where recipes and ingredients are delivered right to your doorstep, online forums, blogs, websites, and more.  These resources can be great sources of knowledge and inspiration when starting your plant-based journey.   

Do all men with prostate cancer need a plant-based diet?

Thankfully, we now know that the Low-Risk type of prostate cancer (Gleason 6) does not spread.  From a prostate cancer point of view these men are going to do well regardless of what they eat.   It’s not necessary that men with these harmless types of cancer make radical lifestyle changes.  That being said, dietary changes can help reduce the risk of other health problems such as heart disease and other types of cancers.   Talk to your doctor if a lifestyle change such as a change in diet may be beneficial to your treatment plan. 

Conclusion

Change is always difficult, but if you are creative and patient you can find a diet that will work for you.  If your diet makes you miserable, it is unsustainable.  Somehow you need to strike a balance between a healthy diet and happy lifestyle.  This is what leads to your overall well-being.  It may take some time to discover what plan works for you, so be understanding and forgiving while researching your options.   

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