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Cancer and the Animal-to-Plant Protein Ratio

NF-July22 Eating More Meat Than Veggies? For Prostate Cancer, it Matters.jpg

It is now eight years since the famous Ornish study was published, suggesting that 12 months on a strictly plant-based diet could reverse the progression of prostate cancer. For those unfamiliar with that landmark Ornish study, see Cancer Reversal Through Diet?, which the Pritikin Foundation followed up on with Ex Vivo Cancer Proliferation Bioassay.

Wait a second. How were they able to get a group of older men to go vegan for a year? They home delivered prepared meals to their doors, I guess figuring men are so lazy they'll just eat whatever is put in front of them.

But what about out in the real world? Realizing that we can't even get most men with cancer to eat a measly five servings of fruits and veggies, in a study profiled in my video, Prostate Cancer Survival: The A/V Ratio, researchers settled on just trying to change their A to V ratio--the ratio of animal to vegetable proteins--and indeed were successful in cutting this ratio by at least half, from about two to one animal to plant, to kind of half vegan, one to one.

How'd the men do? Their cancer appeared to slow down. The average PSA doubling time (an estimate of how fast the tumor may be doubling in size) in the "half vegan" group slowed from 21 months to 58 months. So the cancer kept growing, but with a part-time plant-based diet they were able to slow down the tumor's expansion. What Ornish got, though, was an apparent reversal in cancer growth--the PSA didn't just rise slower, it trended down, which could be an indication of tumor shrinkage. So the ideal A to V ratio may be closer to zero.

If there's just no way grandpa's going vegan, and we just have half-measures, which might be the worst A and the best V? Eggs and poultry may be the worst, respectively doubling and potentially quadrupling the risk of cancer progression in a study out of Harvard. Twice the risk eating less than a single egg a day and up to quadruple the risk eating less than a single daily serving of chicken or turkey.

And if we could only add one thing to our diet, what would it be? Cruciferous vegetables. Less than a single serving a day of either broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, or kale may cut the risk of cancer progression (defined as the cancer coming back, spreading to the bone, or death) by more than half.

The animal to plant ratio might be useful for cancer prevention as well. For example, in the largest study ever performed on diet and bladder cancer, just a 3% increase in the consumption of animal protein was associated with a 15% higher risk of bladder cancer, whereas a 2% increase in plant protein intake was associated with a 23% lower risk. Even little changes in our diets can have significant effects.

What else might help men with prostate cancer? See Flaxseed vs. Prostate Cancer and Saturated Fat & Cancer Progression. What about preventing it in the first place? See:

Poultry and eggs may be related to cancer risk in a variety of ways:

Crucifers may also help with other cancers. See:

Breast cancer is highlighted in my video Breast Cancer Survival Vegetable.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: Greg Habermann / Flickr

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Flaxseeds for Prostate Cancer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is there such a huge disparity in prostate cancer rates around the world? The incidence of malignant prostate cancer is highest in African Americans, some 30 times greater than in Japanese men, and 120 times greater than in Chinese men. The conventional thinking is that this may be due to the higher intake of animal fat and protein in the Western diet, but it could also be the protective phytoestrogens found in plant foods. There are two major types of phytoestrogens: soy isoflavones and lignans.

Researchers have found higher levels of lignans in the prostate fluids of men in countries with relatively low rates of prostate cancer and in vitro studies show lignans can slow the growth of prostate cancer cells in a petri dish, so a pilot study was performed on flaxseed supplementation in men with prostate cancer. Why flaxseeds? Because while lignans are found throughout the plant kingdom, flax has up to 800 times more than any other food.

The research team took a bunch of men with prostate cancer, about a month before they were scheduled for surgery to get their prostates removed, and put them on a relatively low fat diet with three tablespoons a day of ground flax. Though the scientists were skeptical that they would observe any differences in tumor biology in the diet-treated patients in such a short time span, they found significantly lower cancer proliferation rates and significantly higher rates of cancer cell death. That was compared to so-called “historical controls,” meaning compared to the kind of growth one typically sees in their situation, not to an actual randomized control group. A few years later, though, a controlled study was published.

Researchers enrolled men who recently had their prostates biopsied and were scheduled to have repeat biopsies in six months. Then they did the same thing as the previous study: they reduced the fat in their diet and put them on ground flaxseeds to see if it made their repeat biopsy look any different. These were men with what’s called PIN (prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia), which is like the prostate equivalent of ductal carcinoma in situ in the breast. That’s why they were getting repeat biopsies–to make sure it wasn’t spreading.

There hadn’t been much research on this kind of prostatic hyperplasia, with only four epidemiologic studies reported at the time. They yielded varying findings, with increased risk associated with higher energy, protein, and animal product intake, and decreased risk related to the consumption of alcohol, fruit, and green and yellow vegetables—in sum, a low-fat, plant-based diet, high in phytoestrogens. The researchers wanted to know if that kind of diet could be used to treat it too.

Watch my 4-min video Flaxseed vs. Prostate Cancer to see what they found. Study subjects experienced a significant drop in PSA levels (a biomarker of prostate cell growth), a drop in cholesterol (what one would expect with a lower fat diet with extra fiber), and most importantly, a significant decrease in the cellular proliferation rate. In fact in two of the men, their PSA levels dropped so much they didn’t even have to go through with the second biopsy!

Slowing the Growth of Cancer is good, but how about Cancer Reversal Through Diet? In other words, if one plant could do that, what about a whole diet full of plants? See my video series that goes from Ex Vivo Cancer Proliferation Bioassay (actually Engineering a Cure) to The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle.

For benign prostate gland enlargement see Prostate vs. Plants, and Prostate vs. a Plant-Based Diet (with background in Some Prostates Are Larger than Others).

What about for breast cancer? See Breast Cancer Survival and Lignan Intake. More on these wonderful seeds in Flax and Fecal Flora, my smoothies (A Better Breakfast), and the oldie but goodie Just the Flax, Ma’am. What about chia? Find out which is better in Flaxseeds vs. Chia Seeds.

Since the dietary intervention involved both reducing fat intake and flaxseed consumption, how do we know the flax had anything to do with it? Given the composite nature of the intervention—both a lower fat diet and flaxseeds, it was unknown whether the effects could be attributed to flaxseed supplementation, a fat-restricted diet, or both factors working together.  To figure that out you’d have to do a study where you split men into four groups, a control group, a flaxseed only group, a lower-fat only group, and then a flaxseed and lower fat group. And that’s exactly what they did. Find out the results in my follow-up video Was It the Flaxseed, Fat Restriction, or Both?.

That reminds me of the experiment described in Is It the Diet, the Exercise, or Both? in which researchers try to tease out the individual effects of a similar composite treatment—a plant-based diet and walking—on the growth of prostate cancer cells in vitro. They both appeared to help, but diet appeared to be more powerfully protective.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

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