Diet affects cancer genes

A few days ago a blog reader (thanks!) sent me the link to an interesting Medline Plus story (see: concerning the effect that dietary/lifestyle changes can have on cancer genes. The effect turns out to be quite startling, to say the least.


A study recently published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (full study: shows that men with early prostate cancer who changed their diet, decreased stress levels and became more physically active were able to change the expression of hundreds of their cancer genes: Some of the changes positively affect genes that help fight cancer, while others help turn off genes that promote cancer development. How about that?


A bit of background (see MedLine for the full story): Previous epidemiological studies have found that the incidence of prostate cancer is significantly lower in areas of the world where people eat a more plant-based, low-fat diet instead of the higher-fat, higher-protein diet often consumed in the United States.


So a team of scientists decided to conduct an interesting experiment: In September 2005, they reported that after intensive lifestyle changes — consuming a vegan diet with about 10 percent of calories from fat, walking 30 minutes six times a week, and practicing stress management one hour daily — men with early prostate cancer lowered their PSA scores by 4 percent, while men in the control group saw their PSA score rise by 6 percent. PSA (=prostate-specific antigen), by the way, is a prostate cancer marker.


But what were the reasons behind such an improvement?


The researchers conducted a second study to answer that question: Thirty men diagnosed with early prostate cancer were enrolled in the study. The men were predominantly white (84 percent), with an average age of 62.3 years, and an average PSA score of 4.8 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). Their Gleason scores — another measure of the severity of the cancer — were an average of six. The details can be seen in the MedLine article, but what I found extraordinary is that three months of dietary and lifestyle changes affected more than 500 genes. FIVE HUNDRED!


Now, I am not suggesting that we ALL go on plant-based or vegan diets. This may not be a good idea for certain types of cancer. For instance, as I have written before, Dr. Gonzalez has found that his myeloma patients respond better to a high-fat, meat-based diet. So please proceed with caution.


But if you are at risk of developing prostate cancer, why not change your diet and see what happens?


I must admit that reading these articles gave me a sense of power. Even though I don’t have prostate cancer (!), perhaps I can affect my own type of cancer via certain lifestyle and dietary choices. Yeah! food! 

P.S. Last Thursday’s Cancer Compass newsletter also had an article on this topic:

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