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The Physicians Committee

Ask the Expert: Prostate Cancer

Q: What vitamins and minerals are important to take to protect someone with a history of prostate cancer? What foods are best?

A: In addition to avoiding dairy products and emphasizing lycopene-rich foods, such as tomatoes, watermelon, or pink grapefruit in your diet, there may be value in paying attention to the mineral selenium.

When researchers compared blood samples of men with prostate cancer to age-similar controls without cancer, they found that men with prostate cancer had lower levels of serum selenium. Another study hypothesized that this protective effect of selenium may be due to the mineral's ability to raise plasma levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the active form of vitamin D.

So, how can you protect yourself against prostate cancer? Whole grains are a good source of selenium, so get started by choosing a vegan diet, rich in whole grains. Replace dairy products with vegetable sources of calcium, such as leafy greens and legumes.  And add some tomatoes to your salad.

Li H, Stampfer MJ, Giovannucci EL, Morris JS, Willett WC, Gaziano JM, Ma J. A prospective study of plasma selenium levels and prostate cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2004;96(9):696-703.

Q: What is the link between dairy consumption and prostate cancer?  How much calcium should I have in my diet?
A: Dr. Giovannuci, an expert this area of current research at Harvard University, points out that large scale population studies have shown that dairy consumption is strongly correlated with prostate cancer mortality, even when taking into account possible confounding variables such as fat intake and red meat consumption.  This correlation exists for the more aggressive forms of prostate cancer.  This is trend is evident in European countries as well as the United States.  Even when considering genetic differences, Asians, for example, who traditionally have lower levels of prostate, breast, and colon cancers, are developing more of these cancers when moving to more industrialized cities or adopting Western lifestyle habits. 

This data has led researchers to investigate certain aspects of milk and its relation to prostate cancer.  Calcium, hormones, fatty-acids, and IGF-1 are possible components of milk that may be influence prostate cancer risk.  In fact, new research is showing that high amounts of calcium may be the cause.  The Cancer Project recommends 600-800mg of calcium a day, which is a safe amount that will not increase your risk of cancer.  Excellent plant sources of calcium can be found in broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, mustard greens, and fortified products such as orange juice, and will also provide your body with important cancer-fighting nutrients.

Li H, Stampfer MJ, Giovannucci EL, Morris JS, Willett WC, Gaziano JM, Ma J. A prospective study of plasma selenium levels and prostate cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2004;96(9):696-703.


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