The goal of pelvic floor physical therapy is to help our patients restore good pelvic floor function in order to improve continence, decrease urinary frequency and urgency, reduce pain, and/or improve sexual function, just to name a few things! These are all symptoms that can affect men who are undergoing or have completed treatment for prostate cancer. Though my area of expertise lies in the realm of the musculoskeletal system and movement, it is important to understand how other important aspects of health and wellness contributes to healing and function. This is where nutrition comes in!
There is a good amount of research being done to determine how dietary choices impact prostate cancer cell growth. Though further research is needed to provide more definitive guidelines, following some principles that align with healthy dietary choices can help to reduce prostate cancer cell growth and promote overall health and well-being within the body as these patients undergo treatment.
Include Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables
We all know that fruits and vegetables are important in our diet for many reasons, however, there are specific benefits when it comes to prostate cancer.
- They contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, carotenoids lycopene, indole, and flavonals. If you are saying “You lost me at fiber”, no problem! These are all compounds found within fruits and vegetables that have been shown to have cancer-fighting properties!
- Studies have shown men who consumed at least 28 servings of vegetables per week had a decreased risk of prostate cancer compared to those who consumed half of that amount
- Three or more servings per week of cruciferous vegetables have been shown to have a 41% decrease in risk of prostate cancer when compared to subjects who ate one or less serving per week. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussel sprouts, and bok choy.
Bottom Line: Aim to consume 8-10 servings per day of fruits and vegetables
Up Your Intake of Dietary Fiber
A diet that is high in fiber is beneficial for many reasons but has been shown to be especially helpful for patients with prostate cancer. Foods that are high in fiber include fruits and vegetables (another reason to increase your intake!), beans, legumes, nuts and whole grains such as oats, barley, quinoa, amaranth, bulgur, and millet.
- Fiber binds to toxic compounds and carcinogens and is then eliminated from the body
- Fiber reduces hormone levels that may be involved in the progression of prostate cancer
- A higher consumption of cereals, nuts, or seeds has been shown to be related to a decrease in prostate cancer mortality
Bottom Line: Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber daily, ideally from a dietary source versus a supplement.
Shoot for a Low-Fat Diet and Choose your Fats Wisely
There is some evidence that shows that a high-fat diet increases testosterone levels which are associated with prostate cancer growth. To be clear, this is NOT to say that fats should be eliminated from the diet. Fats are essential to healthy cell function and serve an important role in our bodies, however, they should be consumed in moderation. Another important thing to keep in mind is that not all fats are created equal!
- Saturated Fats: These types of fats make up >50% of the cell membrane. Though they are important in our cellular function, they have also been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer. This may be due, in part, to the increased saturated fat content found in may processed foods. For that reason, it is important to seek out healthy sources of saturated fats, such as coconut oil and fats from animals that are free-range and grass-fed. Saturated fats should make up 10% or less of our total daily calorie consumption.
- Trans-Fats: These can be found on food labels as “hydrogenated” or “partially-hydrogenated” oils and should be avoided at all costs. These types of fats contribute to poor cellular health, systemic inflammation, and can cause hormonal imbalances. They are found in products such as margarine, fried foods, and processed foods.
- Omega-6 Fatty Acids: These types of fats are an important part of our diet; however, they are consumed in relatively high amounts in the standard American diet which can contribute to the growth of prostate cancer cells. These types of fats also tend to be more processed than Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Some examples of Omega-6 Fatty Acids include vegetable oils, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, and soybean oil. A good way to reduce consumption of Omega-6s is to substitute olive oil for cooking oil as it is monounsaturated fat which has not been shown to increase cancer risk
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These are the powerhouse fats to help reduce the risk of prostate cancer and cancer progression. They induce cancer cell death and suppress cancer cell initiation. Multiple studies have shown that men who consumed cold-water fish 3-4x/week had a decreased risk of prostate cancer. Aim to consume fish 2-4 times per week or consider taking a fish oil supplement.
Bottom Line: Fats should make up about 20% of your daily calorie intake with no more than half of those fats being from saturated fats. Trans-fats should be avoided at all costs and Omega-6 Fatty Acids should be reduced. Increased intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids have been shown to be beneficial in reducing the risk of prostate cancer or reducing cancer progression in those who already have prostate cancer.
Limit Simple Sugars
Sugar can have harmful effects on our bodies in many ways, and for those who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, there is another reason to avoid them.
- Sugars are highly processed and refined and provide empty calories that are low in fiber and nutrients
- Sugars increase serum insulin which may stimulate cancer cell growth
Bottom Line: Sugar intake and refined carbohydrates such as those found in white bread and pasta should be decreased or avoided
Nutrition plays an essential part in our body’s ability to fight off disease and recover after illness or injury. For those who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer or who would like to do what they can to reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer, making some dietary changes can give your body the support it needs to stay happy and healthy!