Western diet heightens risk of death after prostate cancer


In addition to fireworks displays and downtown parades, the Fourth of July is a celebration of the American diet.

But before you pile burgers and hot dogs on the grill this holiday weekend, consider this recent study: Among men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, those with a diet focused on processed meats, red meats and high fat dairy products had a higher risk of death than those whose diets were oriented around fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes and whole grains.

Pass the lettuce and tomato, please.

The Harvard study, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, followed 926 men participating in Harvard University’s Physician’s Health Study who had been diagnosed with non-metastatic prostate cancer, asking them to fill out questionnaires approximately 5 and 10 years after their diagnosis. The study showed that this animal-based western pattern of eating contributed to earlier death both from prostate cancer and other causes.

The research underscores a growing body of evidence that diets that avoid red meat and are rich in fruits, vegetables and other plant-based sources result in prevention or reversal of chronic disease and longer life expectancies. Less is known about the specific connections between diet and cancer, and the Harvard study sheds more light on the way diet may significantly impact long-term outcomes for cancer patients.

“Because cardiovascular disease is one of the top causes of death among prostate cancer survivors, our findings regarding all-cause mortality are what we anticipated and closely align with the current knowledge of the role of diet on cardiovascular disease. Our findings with Western diet and prostate cancer-specific mortality, however, were surprising, in part because there are very little data regarding how diet after diagnosis may impact disease prognosis,” said Jorge E. Chavarro, study senior author and assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School Public Health.

This isn’t Harvard’s only research foray into the effects of diet on prostate cancer. In another national study, Harvard Medical School is following men with small, low-grade tumors who have opted for “active surveillance” rather than immediate treatment. One group will eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day, two servings of whole grains and one serving of beans or other legumes compared to a group that will eat according to standard American dietary recommendations.

In the meantime, grab an extra piece of watermelon, opt for salad and baked beans, and celebrate the freedom of a long and healthy life!