BY RALPH BLUM
For many men, a diagnosis of prostate cancer is a wake-up call to make lifestyle and dietary changes. If you have been diagnosed with the Low-Risk and even Intermediate-Risk form of the disease, and you have decided to delay radical treatment, it is particularly important to follow a diet known to inhibit cancer growth.
While it is not clear exactly what role diet plays in a man’s getting prostate cancer, once diagnosed, there is increasing evidence to support the effectiveness of diet in counteracting the disease.
Body-weight is a major factor. A number of studies conclude that over- eating and being overweight lead to an increase in the incidence of prostate cancer, as well as the aggressiveness of the disease. But until recently, I had done little to change my diet. What did it take to get this mule’s attention?
Over 50 million people in the United States are obese. I am 5’9” and, as of this writing, I weigh 205, which registers as “obese” on any grading system. My wake-up call was watching a 60 Minutes segment about children in Florida living within sight of Disney World, who were going to bed hungry night after night. It hit me like a sucker punch: Being obese in such a world is more than unhealthy and shameful; it is obscene. That same day I not only changed the way I eat but my attitude where eating was concerned, replacing eating for pleasure with eating to live.
To borrow a phrase from Bette Davis, making serious dietary changes “ain’t for sissies.” The approaches we men take to “the food thing,” as one doc I know calls it, range from rigorous, restricted diets on the one hand, to intelligent and moderate monitoring of their intake on the other. I am not talking here about going on a strict macrobiotic or vegan diet, just cutting out foods that have been shown to accelerate the pace of cancer cell growth. What makes a diet most effective is not what you eat, it’s what you abstain from eating.
According to all nutritionists the worst offender is sugar. Cancer cells are especially greedy for sugar—a fact dramatically illustrated in a PET scan. The PET scan uses radioactive sugar injected into the blood stream to locate tumors. Well, the uptake of glucose into the cancer cells occurs so swiftly that they light up like fireworks within ten minutes of the injection.
Sorry guys, but next on the “foods to avoid” list is red meat. Red meat contains more than 50% fat, and high fat diets increase the level of insulin-like growth factor which in turn increases the risk of prostate cancer. I have gone “cold turkey” on red meat, chicken, and almost all fish.
The National Cancer Institute has spent millions of dollars researching diet in China, where the consumption of animal protein—meat, milk, cheese and eggs—is very low. The most significant finding in these extensive studies was: the more animal protein you eat, the higher your risk of dying of cancer. In the entire Far East, mortality rates from prostate cancer are eighteen times lower than in the U.S.
So what to do? Start by throwing out the sugar cookies and Krispy Cremes, and cut way down on the booze (Did I forget to mention booze? Sorry). Next, take that steak off the barbie, and chow down on a plate of delicious and creatively seasoned steamed veggies, with a side order of adzuki beans for a shot of pure protein. It took my sense of shame to move me to act. But I’ve stuck with it. And, yes, it’s a little bit boring. But nothing to compare with being dead.
About Ralph Blum (1932-2016):
Ralph H. Blum was a cultural anthropologist and author, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University with a degree in Russian Studies. His reporting from the Soviet Union, the first of its kind for The New Yorker (1961—1965), included two three-part series on Russian cultural life. He wrote for various magazines, among them Reader’s Digest, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue. Blum has published three novels and five nonfiction books. He lived with prostate cancer, without radical intervention, for twenty years.