Diet, Nutrition, and Lifestyle

Prostate Cancer-Fighting Foods

cancer-fighting foods

Medically reviewed by Dr. Paul Song M.D

Some foods and spices contain compounds and properties that put them in the category of cancer-fighting foods. That means you have an opportunity to fight cancer—prostate cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, and more—every time you have a meal, snack, or beverage if you include some of these natural cancer slayers in your daily diet. Research into the anticancer abilities of various foods and spices has revealed some have more potential to prevent or reduce the risk of certain cancers than others. With that in mind, here is our list of cancer fighting foods you should include in your daily diet as much as possible.

Which Cancer-Fighting Foods Should You Enjoy Often?

Check out the cancer-fighting properties of the following foods which are included as part of the Prostate Health Diet:

  • Apple peels. If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, much of that is likely true only if you keep the peel on the fruit. Apple peels are a super source of antioxidants, yet many people discard them, especially if they have chosen conventionally grown apples, which is a good reason to go organic! Even if you have nonorganic apples, scrub the skin well and enjoy the cancer-fighting properties of the peel.

Research has shown a significant decline in growth and viability of human prostate cancer cells when exposed to apple peel extract. The authors of this investigation concluded that their data “suggested that APE [apple peel extract] possesses strong antiproliferative effects against cancer cells, and apple peels should not be discarded from the diet.” Other research concerning breast and colon cancers showed that apple peel was more effective than apple flesh in causing cell suicide.

  • Carrots. Could carrots be effective against prostate cancer? A study from the University of York has suggested that a diet rich in vitamin A makes the disease easier to treat, and beta-carotene-rich carrots may do the trick. Carrots, which also have a cancer-fighting substance called falcarinol that inhibits cell proliferation, have already been associated with a reduced risk of various cancers, including colon, bladder, throat, mouth, and stomach.

The University of York researchers discovered that retinoic acid, a substance made from vitamin A, can interfere with the ability to cancer cells to invade adjacent tissue. According to the study’s lead author, Professor Norman Maitland, “We have found that specific twin genes are turned off in malignant prostate cancer stem cells. When we turn them back on using retinoic acid, the cancer becomes less aggressive.”

  • Cayenne peppers. Cayenne peppers provide capsaicin, a substance that has demonstrated its cancer fighting abilities in several areas. In one laboratory study from 2007, for example, capsaicin slowed the growth of prostate cancer cells and prompted apoptosis (cell suicide), while a subsequent study found similar results regarding apoptosis and prostate cancer cells. Other animal studies have shown that capsaicin can suppress the invasion and migration of prostate cancer cells as well as significantly slow their growth. A 2015 effort revealed that combining oral capsaicin and radiotherapy resulted in better growth delay and reduction in prostate cancer than did either capsaicin or radiotherapy alone in human prostate cancer cells.
  • Coffee. Dozens of studies have examined the impact of drinking coffee on the risk of prostate cancer. Two meta-analyses can help consolidate the findings thus far. One involved 13 studies and 539,577 participants and found a lower risk of cancer of 2.5 percent for every 2 cups consumed per day. Another reported that coffee intake could reduce the incidence of prostate cancer and that several factors could explain this benefit. Among them was the ability of caffeine to prevent oxidative DNA damage or impact the cell suicide response, while others suggest some of coffee’s bioactive components, including cafestol and kahweol, have anticancer properties.
  • Cranberries. These tart little fruits have demonstrated an ability to fight cancer on several levels as the whole fruit (or whole fruit extract) rather than individual components of the cranberry. A 2016 update on cancer and cranberries emphasized that the fruits are induce cell suicide (apoptosis), reduce cell proliferation, impact cell damage from oxidation, and modify cell signaling.
  • Cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and kale, among others, contain several compounds shown to fight cancer. One is the chemical indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a phytonutrient that is a precursor to diindolylmethane (DIM), another indole and phytonutrient. Together, I3C and DIM promote metabolism of estrogen, a cancer-promoting hormone, into a safer version.

Cruciferous vegetables, and especially broccoli sprouts, are also a source of the phytochemical sulforaphane, which has been shown to promote the production of enzymes that fight cancer-causing agents. Two more cancer-fighting compounds, lutein and zeaxanthin, are found in cruciferous vegetables as well. Lutein, for example, has demonstrated activity against prostate cancer and colon cancer. Be sure to include broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables as a regular part of a cancer prevention diet.

  • Fenugreek seeds. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum) is a spice that is valued not only in the kitchen but in the gym for its ability to improve muscle strength and endurance. But researchers also discovered fenugreek has anticancer properties against prostate cancer, among others. Experts have shown that fenugreek inhibits prostate cancer cell lines but does not bother normal healthy cells. Fenugreek seeds can be added to a variety of vegetable and grain dishes.
  • Flaxseeds. These tiny seeds have up to 800 times more lignans than other foods. Why is this important? Lignans are plant components that have strong anti-estrogenic effects, which means they can block the effects of estrogen and thus help lower the risk of hormone-associated cancers, such as prostate cancer. Research has indicated, for example, that flaxseed-derived enterolactone (a lignin) may interfere with prostate cancer cell proliferation. Sprinkle flaxseeds on salads, vegetables, and cereals and add them to smoothies.
  • Foods rich in phytates. Phytates (aka inositol hexakisphosphate [IP6]) are antioxidants present in beans, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Among the benefits of phytates are their ability to stop the proliferation of prostate cancer cells, fight inflammation, and help prevent cardiovascular disease. When it comes to fighting cancer, phytates trigger differentiation of cancer cells, causing them to transform back to behaving more like healthy, normal cells. When phytate-rich foods are consumed, the antioxidant is rapidly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract and they quickly attracted to malignant cells.

One concern raised about phytates is that they can attach themselves to calcium, iron, manganese, and zinc and slow their absorption. However, experts such as Andrew Weil, MD, have noted that phytates shouldn’t be a problem if you eat a balanced diet.

  • Garlic. Garlic does more than keep vampires away—the popular herb also contains allium compounds that enhance the activity of immune system cells designed to fight cancer. These compounds, called dialyl sultides, may block carcinogens from getting into cells and also slow the development of tumors. People who regularly eat raw or cooked garlic may enjoy about half the risk of stomach cancer and two-thirds the risk of colorectal cancer when compared with people who eat little or no garlic, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Garlic also takes a potent strike against prostate cancer. An analysis of nine epidemiological studies found that allium vegetables, and especially garlic, were associated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer. Garlic is a versatile herb that can easily be incorporated into a cancer-fighting diet.

  • Licorice. When we refer to licorice as a cancer-fighting food, we are not talking about the sweet licorice whips you may enjoy at the movie theater but all-natural licorice root. Thus far, research indicates that components of licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra and licochalcone-A) can induce cell death as well as autophagy—destruction of dysfunctional cells such as cancer cells.

A novel way to enjoy licorice may be roasting the root. A recent study found that an ethanol extract of roasted licorice was more potent and effective than unroasted licorice in inhibiting the growth of prostate cancer cells. More research needs to be done, but the findings led the authors to note that “roasted rather than un-roasted licorice should be favored as a cancer preventive agent” and it remains to be seen whether it should be “used as an additive to food or medicine preparations.”

  • Mushrooms. A number of different mushrooms have demonstrated cancer-fighting properties against various cancers. The anticancer abilities are attributed to polysaccharides, including beta glucan, which enhance the immune system and strengthen it against cancer. Mushrooms also contain complex protein/sugar molecules called lectin, which have an ability to prevent cancer cells from multiplying. Another compound in mushrooms is ergosterol peroxide, which can inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells and prompt apoptosis, according to a study reported in Chemico Biological Interactions.

The turkey tail mushroom was found to be completely effective in preventing development of prostate tumors in mice in an Australian study. The reason was attributed to a compound called polysaccharopeptide (PSP), which targets prostate cancer stem cells and interferes with tumor formation.

  • Orange bell peppers. Bell peppers come in a variety of colors and all are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. However, a study of the antiproliferative and antioxidant activities of common vegetables revealed that consumption of orange bell peppers in particular can reduce prostate cancer cell growth by as much as 75 percent. The investigators in the study also emphasized, however, that’s important to eat a wide variety of vegetables since they tend to target different cancers.
  • Rye. Which bread should you choose, wheat or rye? If you are interested in protecting your prostate, the answer is rye. One reason is that of all the whole grains, rye contains the most lignans, which are anticancer plant compounds. Another may be the findings of a 2012 study which noted that adolescent boys who ate rye bread daily had a pronounced reduced risk of advanced prostate cancer in later life. This follows other research that has indicated that dietary patterns set during the first 20 years set a pattern for cancer development in later years.

But don’t despair if you are well past your teens and twenties or even if you have prostate cancer. Researchers randomly had men with prostate cancer eat rye bread or wheat bread (with similar fiber content) daily for three weeks. Analysis of prostate biopsies both before and after the three weeks showed an increase in cancer cell death (apoptosis) in the rye bread group but not in the wheat bread group. When you have a choice, choose rye bread or other rye products over other grains.

  • Tomatoes. Tomatoes are one of the best sources of lycopene, a phytonutrient and antioxidant that is especially concentrated in tomatoes that are cooked or processed, as in tomato sauce or tomato juice. Numerous studies have explored the relationship between tomatoes and lycopene and the fight against cancer. One of the largest and earliest ones involved nearly 48,000 men. In that study, the researchers found that men who consumed the most tomatoes and tomato products had a 35% lower risk of developing prostate cancer and a 53% reduced risk of getting aggressive prostate cancer. In a follow-up to this study published 7 years later, the investigators confirmed that “frequent consumption of tomato products is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer.”

Skip ahead to 2016, when the authors of a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported on the findings of a 23-year follow-up effort that involved 5,543 men diagnosed with prostate cancer. The team discovered that increased intake of tomato sauce was associated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer overall (at least 2 servings per week vs less than 1 serving per month) and that increasing amounts of lycopene intake was associated with a decreased risk of two subtypes of prostate cancer.

  • Turmeric. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is considered an anticancer food and spice because it possesses a variety of important cancer fighting properties. In the January 2012 issue of Frontiers of Bioscience, for example, the authors remarked that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, “appears to involve a blend of anti-carcinogenic, pro-apoptotic, anti-angiogenic, anti-metastatic, immunomodulatory and antioxidant activities.” In other words, curcumin seems to fight cancer from multiple fronts.

Some of those fronts have been demonstrated in studies like one from a German team headed by Dr. Beatrice Bachmeier at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat (LMU) in Munich. Using a mouse model, the scientists evaluated the effectiveness of curcumin in preventing the spread (metastasis) of prostate cancer and tried to determine how it might achieve this goal. They discovered that curcumin reduces the expression of two pro-inflammatory proteins (cytokines CXCL1 and CXCL2) involved in prostate cancer, and in the mice curcumin caused a reduction in the incidence of metastases.

Based on these findings, Bachmeier has suggested curcumin may help prevent prostate cancers and stop their ability to spread. She warned, however, that “This does not mean that the compound should be seen as a replacement for conventional therapies…but curcumin] could play a positive role in primary prevention.” An extra bonus is that curcumin has been shown in many studies to be well tolerated (in doses up to 8 grams taken daily), so side effects are not a major issue.

A study from Thomas Jefferson University experimented with curcumin in mice and in prostate cancer cell samples. Their findings indicated that curcumin might help slow the progression of tumor growth in men with hormone-resistant prostate cancer. Curcumin appeared to be effective because it increased the results of hormone therapy, reduced the number of prostate cancer cells when compared with hormone therapy alone, and inhibited the cell cycle and survival or prostate cancer cells.

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, unless you have inflammatory bowel disease, the best way to reap the benefits of turmeric is by adding it to your diet.


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