What is the role of diet in the treatment of prostate cancer? We hear about changing our diet as a way to slow down prostate cancer progression and we hear about diet as a preventive measure against prostate cancer. It is possible that there could be a new twist on this story, in the future, physicians may treat prostate cancer with starvation!

This sounds like a treatment out of hell, maybe worse than some of the drugs we take. No, I don’t mean that men will be asked to starve, but their tumor cells might be able to be starved. New research showing that depriving prostate tumor cells of a critical nutrient could result in development of drugs that slow progression of the disease through tumor starvation.

At the Centenary Institute in Sydney, Australia, researchers discovered that prostate cancer cells have an excessive number of internal pumps through which the amino acid leucine enters the cancer cells. Prostate cancer cells need leucine to grow. The clear next step is to find out what would happen if these pumps cold be shut down, depriving the cancer of leucine?

Using human prostate cancer cells, Dr. Jeff Holst and his team “found that we could disrupt the uptake of leucine by reducing the expression of these protein pumps, and by introducing a drug that competes with leucine. Both approaches slowed cancer growth, in essence ‘starving’ the cancer cells.”

In some of their experiments, the scientists also found they could slow tumor growth in both early and late prostate cancer as much as 50%. First author Dr. Qian Wang noted that “if animal trials are successful over the next few years then clinical trials could start in as little as five years.”

Normally, I don’t write about early findings without near term potential for men currently dealing with advanced prostate cancer. However, in this case we don’t have to wait five years. We can take action now. Holst pointed out that their discovery provides a better understanding of the association between prostate cancer and eating foods high in leucine or foods that promote prostate cancer progression. What foods contain high levels of leucine? The simple answer is red meat (beef), processed meats (e.g., salami), fish, and soybeans.

Numerous studies have noted a relationship between consumption of red meat, including processed meats, and dairy products and a greater risk of prostate cancer. A recent study in Nutrition and Cancer, for example, reported on an increased risk of advanced prostate cancer in men who consumed processed meat, grilled red meat, hamburgers, and well-done red meat.

According to Dr. Holst “Diets high in red meat and dairy are correlated with prostate cancer but still no one really understands why.” This new discovery concerning the pumps in prostate cancer cells has prompted the scientists to determine “whether these pumps can explain the links between diet and prostate cancer.”

The new research from Centenary Institute suggests that starvation of prostate cancer tumor cells may be a new approach to cancer treatment. Until that day comes, men may want to heed the suggested nutritional spin-off information from this study and avoid or limit their consumption of red and processed meats.

Centenary Institute news release
John EM et al. Meat consumption, cooking practices, meat mutagens, and risk of prostate cancer. Nutrition and Cancer 2011 May; 63(4): 525-37
National Cancer Institute

Joel T. Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.