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Warning: Don’t Supersize Your Prostate (Or Yourself)

If you want to be disgusted, watch the documentary Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock, made in 2004. In case you haven't seen it, he recounts a month of his life when he ate only McDonald's food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. McDonald's is not really a fast-food chain that specializes in fresh vegetarian meals. In an extreme form of the Western diet, for 30 days Spurlock lived (if you can call it living) on meat, cheese, and refined flour. In terms of impact, he dropped a bomb on Spurlock's health - fortunately, it didn't kill him, but as the days went by, he felt miserable.

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Our origins: activity and whole foods

A key factor that promoted human evolution/survival was the kind of food our remote ancestors ate.

…[T]he hunter-gatherers actively killed animals for food instead of scavenging meat left behind by other predators and devised ways of setting aside vegetation for consumption at a later date. … From their earliest days, the hunter-gatherer diet included various grasses, tubers, fruits, seeds, and nuts.
The culture accelerated with the appearance of Homo erectus (1.9 million years ago), whose larger brain and shorter digestive system reflected the increased consumption of meat.

Evolution of the prostate gland

Meanwhile, the hormone-dependent parts of mammals' bodies were also changing. Mammals appeared about 65 million years ago. The prostate appeared in male mammals at the same time as the breast evolved in female mammals. Professor Donald Coffey, PhD (Johns Hopkins University) tells us: "All male mammals have a prostate; however, the seminal vesicles are variable and are determined by diet, so species that feed primarily on meat do not have seminal vesicles. The exception is humans, who have seminal vesicles and consume meat, although this is a recent dietary change"[ii]. Of note, Coffey points out that the only other mammal at risk for prostate cancer (PCa) is the dog, a creature that is often fed with leftovers from its owner's table.

The prostate is made up of several different cell types, including its own stem cell population. The stem cells are protected by various enzymes to ensure that their DNA is not damaged. The "seeds" of these stem cells react to male hormones (androgens), which cause them to grow in numbers, or decrease and disappear if they are deprived of androgens (for example, castration, or androgen deprivation therapy for PCa). When stem cells divide, they produce "stems" called mature epithelial cells, which are the active factories for PSA and the prostate fluid that is part of sperm.

However, when the enzymes that protect the stem cells are damaged or destroyed, the DNA of the stem cells may be altered. Ultimately, this leads to the uncontrolled duplication of the epithelial cells we know as PCa.

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Poor nutrition and prostate cancer

Dr. Coffey and colleagues have discovered evidence that when the prostate gland is inflamed, the inflammation generates free radicals that erode the protective enzymes of stem cells, leaving them vulnerable to degraded DNA. How does inflammation occur in the gland? One mechanism is poor diet, especially one that is heavy with meat.

To come at this concept from nature itself, Coffey looked for data from primates, the mammals that are closest to humans in evolutionary terms:

The fact that humans eat meat seems to be a mistake that nature never accounted for. In exploring this phenomenon, Dr. Coffey looked a few rungs further down the evolutionary ladder and found the pigmy chimp called the bonobo. Bonobos and humans have many things in common. Diet is not one of them. Bonobos are vegetarians. And they don’t get prostate cancer.

And, if animal models don’t persuade you, all you have to do is look at immigrants to the U.S. from largely vegetarian and fish-eating cultures, such as Japan and Southeast Asia. Their native lands have a very low incidence of PCa compared with the U.S., but after a few generations here, their PCa rates begin to approach ours. The main culprit appears to be food.

The Western diet supersizes inflammation, not just your prostate, but most other systems in your body. Consider gradually integrating elements of the Mediterranean diet into your menus, with the goal of eventually substituting more vegetables, chicken, fish, and whole grains for your current Western-style meals.

This is no Aesop’s fable, but there is a moral to the story: Don’t supersize your sensitive prostate gland or any other part of your body.

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