Mounting evidence suggests that plant-based diets can play a significant role in reducing cancer risk and aiding cancer management. Research indicates that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes can lower inflammation, improve metabolic markers, and offer protective benefits against various cancers, including prostate, colorectal, and breast cancers. 

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RELATED: New Study: Plant-Based Foods Could Improve Men’s Sexual Health After Prostate Cancer Treatment

These benefits are attributed to the abundance of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and anti-inflammatory compounds found in plant-based foods. Building on this growing body of research, two new studies from the University of Rochester Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, further highlight the potential of plant-based diets in improving health outcomes for cancer patients.

Plant-based diet and stage 4 breast cancer 

A clinical trial at the University of Rochester Medical Center focused on women with stage 4 breast cancer. Led by Thomas M. Campbell, the study involved 30 patients who were on stable treatment and could tolerate food. 

Participants were divided into two groups: one receiving standard care and the other following a whole-foods, plant-based diet provided by the research team for eight weeks.

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This diet consisted solely of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, potatoes, and nuts and seeds, while avoiding animal-based foods, oils, and added solid fats. Participants also took a daily multivitamin, and compliance was at 95 percent.

While dietary interventions are not often studied for this group of cancer patients, the results of this trial were significant. Patients in the plant-based group lost one to two pounds per week without mandated exercise.

This is notable since weight gain during breast cancer treatment can increase insulin levels and hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, which can fuel cancer growth.

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Blood samples from this indicated reduced levels of IGF-1, a growth factor associated with many common cancers, and less inflammation. Participants in the plant-based group also saw improvements in their cholesterol levels and many reported feeling mentally sharper and experiencing less fatigue.

“It’s exciting to see that these major dietary changes were feasible, well-tolerated, and acceptable to the clinical trial participants,” Campbell told research publication Futurity

While the study cannot yet confirm if the diet can stop cancer progression, the preliminary results indicate favorable changes within the body. The research team is collaborating with Isaac Harris at the Wilmot Cancer Institute to further investigate the impact of amino acid composition on cancer cell survival and the efficacy of cancer drugs. 

The primary study is published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, and the findings have led to additional publications in the same journal and Frontiers in Nutrition.

Plant-based diet and prostate cancer

Similarly, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that a plant-based diet can significantly reduce the risk of prostate cancer progression. 

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The study, which analyzed dietary questionnaires completed from 2004 to 2016, involved more than 2,000 men with localized prostate cancer. The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, showed that eating a primarily plant-based diet was associated with a 47 percent lower risk of cancer progression compared to those who consumed the most animal products.

The study analyzed the men, with a median age of 65 years old, over time to see how dietary factors affected the progression of their cancer. The plant-based diet included fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, tea, and coffee. Researchers used a plant-based index to measure consumption, comparing the men who scored in the highest 20 percent to those who scored in the lowest 20 percent.

“Making small changes in one’s diet each day is beneficial,” Stacey A. Kenfield, ScD, a UCSF professor of urology, said in a statement. “Greater consumption of plant-based food after a prostate cancer diagnosis has also recently been associated with better quality of life.”

“This includes improved sexual function, urinary function, and vitality, making it a win-win on both levels,” Kenfield said. 

The study highlighted that just one or two more servings per day of healthy foods, particularly vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, while eating fewer animal products such as dairy and meat, could significantly impact health. The researchers noted that antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in fruits and vegetables are beneficial in protecting against prostate cancer.

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The recent findings from the University of Rochester and UCSF provide compelling evidence that plant-based diets can significantly benefit cancer patients. While further research is needed to fully understand the long-term impacts, the initial results are promising and align with existing evidence supporting plant-based nutrition for overall health improvement and cancer prevention.

Additional studies have shown that plant-based diets can protect against various cancers, including colorectal, gastric, and liver cancers. 

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