A Diet to Beat or Treat Prostate Cancer

Serving up tumor prevention and control.

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Dean Ornish is known for his holistic approaches to combating disease. For prostate cancer, he advocates a comprehensive lifestyle that includes a vegan diet, moderate exercise, stress relaxation techniques like yoga, and support group meetings designed to help the lifestyle changes stick. And he has put his theory to the test. In a recent Journal of Urology study, his team showed that patients who followed this rigorous regime saw their prostate specific antigen scores drop by an encouraging 4 percent, on average, over 12 months. Meanwhile, volunteers in a comparison group experienced a 6 percent rise in average PSA. Additional testing showed that blood serum from the first group inhibited cancer cells eight times as much as did serum from the second group.

While Ornish's small study didn't parse out which aspects of the intervention made a difference, other evidence suggests that diet, at least, can play a role in fending off prostate cancer. Research on Asian-Americans, for example, has shown that first-generation immigrants have low rates of prostate cancer. But rates shoot up in subsequent generations, which adopt more American eating habits. Mark Scholz, cofounder of the Prostate Cancer Research Institute in Los Angeles, puts it this way: "In the United States, cancers grow better because we feed them better." Here are some foods to seek out—or to avoid:

Cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale contain a compound called sulforaphane that enables the body to rebuff cancer-promoting chemicals.

Lycopene-rich fruits. The compound lycopene, abundant in tomatoes and found in watermelons, pink grapefruit, papaya, and guava, offers similar protection. One study showed eating two daily servings of tomatoes cut a man's risk of developing the disease. Cooking the fruit aids lycopene absorption.

Fat. Consuming lots of fat, especially animal fat, is associated with an elevated risk of prostate cancer.