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Recent research suggests that small changes in diet can make a big difference for men who have prostate cancer. Including the right kind of fat for by 10% of daily calories may reduce the rate of death over a 5-year-period by 29% in men who have cancer.

For over 30 years, men have been told that fatty foods, especially red meats, lunch meat, and smoked meats, along with whole-fat dairy and eggs, increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. It would better, men were told, to get more calories from carbohydrates and less from fat.

It turns out that the accepted wisdom on the relationship of dietary fat to prostate cancer wasn't quite right. When men take the carbohydrate out of their diets, and put healthy fat back in, the result is greater health.

Dietary Fat Doesn't "Cause" Prostate Cancer, But May Feed It

A study of 288,868 men over an average of nine years sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that the amount of fat men eat doesn't seem to have a significant relationship to whether or not they will develop prostate cancer in the first place. However, when men do develop prostate cancer, the amount and kind of fat they eat seems to have a lot to do with whether or not they die of prostate cancer or eventually die, years later, of some other condition.

This AARP-NCI study found that men who develop prostate cancer and then consume the largest amount of pro-inflammatory fats are the most likely to die of the disease. The pro-inflammatory fats are essential fatty acids with a kind of chemical structure known as omega-6. These fats are essential to human health because inflammation is essential to human health. The body uses inflammation to repair injury and to fight infection. If you don't get any omega-6 essential fatty acids, you will die.

Every Diet Has to Include a Little "Bad" Fat

However, most men get far more of the inflammation-inducing omega-6 essential fatty acids than their bodies need to fight infection and to replace injured tissues. When men develop prostate cancer, the omega-6's help the tumor use inflammation to "break out" of the prostate, developing its own blood supply, and spreading to other parts of the body.

This especially dangerous fat is found in red meat, whole-milk dairy products, smoked meat, luncheon meat, and lard but it is even more abundant in margarine, cooking oil, peanut butter, soybean oil, chips, cookies, and snack foods. Even plant-based "omega-3" supplements such as flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, borage seed oil, and evening primrose oil contain more of the pro-inflammatory omega-6 essential fatty acids than the anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids. It is simply not possible for anyone to consume enough "healthy plant oils" to get a net cancer-fighting effect, and it's certainly not possible to fight cancer by eating chips, dips, crackers, cookies, Twinkies, and Ding Dongs. 

Once men have developed prostate cancer, eating a high-fat diet increases the risk of death in a five-year period by about 46%. But eating anti-inflammatory fats, it turns out, can reduce the risk of death.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Freedland SJ. Dietary fat and reduced prostate cancer mortality: does the type of fat matter? JAMA Intern Med. 2013 Jul 22. 173(14):1326-7. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.7744.
  • Pelser C, Mondul AM, Hollenbeck AR, Park Y. Dietary fat, fatty acids, and risk of prostate cancer in the NIH-AARP diet and health study.Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2013 Apr. 22(4):697-707. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-12-1196-T.[ Richman EL, Kenfield SA, Chavarro JE, Stampfer MJ, Giovannucci EL, Willett WC, Chan JM. Fat intake after diagnosis and risk of lethal prostate cancer and all-cause mortality.JAMA Intern Med. 2013 Jul 22. 173(14):1318-26. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6536.9401.
  • Photo courtesy of National Cancer Institute by Wikimedia Commons : commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Couple_eating_lunch.jpg
  • Photo courtesy of Rian Lemmer by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/rianpie/5635539724/

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