As you go through prostate cancer treatment, there are foods you can eat -- and others to avoid -- that can boost your health. Although there's no magic diet cure for prostate cancer, your eating habits can make a difference in your outlook.
"Across all cancers, and especially prostate cancer, a heart-healthy, sensible, and modest sugar intake diet is absolutely helpful for cancer care," says Mark Pomerantz, MD. He's a medical oncologist at the Center for Genitourinary Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Treatments for prostate cancer can affect your metabolism (how food is turned into energy), strength, and stamina, he says. When you eat foods that support your heart and improve your overall health, your body can handle those treatments better.
"Along with exercise, a diet that helps you maintain as lean a body as possible is very valuable and assists in our ability to treat advanced prostate cancer as aggressively as we want," Pomerantz says.
Eat Fruits and Vegetables
A plate filled with colorful fruits and vegetables raises your fiber and antioxidant levels. Both benefit your cancer care.
The high fiber content in fruits and vegetables may help lower your testosterone levels. That may be useful because testosterone helps stimulate tumor growth. Fiber may also bind to cancer-causing substances and move them out of your body.
Antioxidants help rid your body of free radicals -- molecules that damage your cells. They can affect the growth of cancer. A diet full of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables helps keep free radicals at bay.
Pomerantz says researchers are checking to see if certain antioxidants in supplement form, like vitamin E and selenium, could actually raise the chances of getting prostate cancer for some people.
"There are hints that there are a subset of people with prostate cancer who benefit considerably from antioxidants, and there are others with a rare specific genetic variant who don't," Pomerantz says. "There are studies ongoing to see if we can figure out exactly who fits in each category."
Always check with your doctor before taking supplements.
Choose Heart-Healthy Fats
The most common form of treatment for advanced prostate cancer is hormone therapy. It lowers the amount of testosterone in your body, which has a direct effect on the amount of fat you gain and keep on your body.
"Testosterone is what gives men their favorable muscle-to-fat ratio," Pomerantz says. "And when we take that hormone away, we put men at risk for losing muscle mass and gaining fat tissue, particularly around the abdomen. It's this fat tissue that's associated with heart disease and diabetes."
That's why it's especially important to move away from high-fat choices such as red meat and dairy and get your protein from heart-healthy sources such as fish, which is full of omega-3 fatty acids, and plants.
- Fish such as salmon
- Lean poultry
Avoid processed lunch meats with nitrates and charred meats, which are linked to cancer.
Watch Your Sugar
Sugar may not cause or worsen cancer, but there is an indirect link between the two. So while you don't need to skip sugar altogether, it's still a good idea to keep your levels low.
"When you change sugar levels in a petri dish, it absolutely affects cancer cells," Pomerantz says. "What I'm not so sure about is whether you can re-create those conditions in the same way inside your body and affect the course of a cancer."
High sugar foods such as cakes, cookies, and sodas raise the amount of calories you take in without much nutritional benefit. Eating lots of sugar is a quick route to weight gain and extra body fat, which raises your risk of health problems and the chance that your cancer will come back.
Alcohol is full of carbohydrates. When you drink a lot of it, you're adding sugar into your system. You might gain weight, which puts pressure on your heart and can raise the chances that your cancer comes back.
Too much alcohol can also limit your doctor's choices to treat you.
"Alcohol affects your liver," Pomerantz says. "And many of the cancer drugs that we use are metabolized by the liver. When you put undue pressure on your liver, it can affect our ability to deliver certain medicines."
Alcohol can also keep your body from processing and absorbing certain essential vitamins and nutrients.
Mark Pomerantz, MD, medical oncologist, Center for Genitourinary Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Prostate Cancer Foundation: "Prostate Cancer Diet."
Cedars Sinai: "Prostate Cancer."
National Cancer Institute: "Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention."
Mayo Clinic: "Stage 4 Prostate Cancer."
Oncology Nutrition: "Prostate Cancer and Diet."
Cancer Prevention Research: "Weight gain is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer recurrence after prostatectomy in the PSA era."
American Cancer Society: "Alcohol Use and Cancer."