Men who have a diet rich in soya products, beans and sunflower seeds run a much lower risk of contracting prostate cancer. New findings from Karolinska Institutet show that foods rich in phytoestrogens – plant-produced oestrogens – protect against the most common form of cancer in the western world.
Some 10,000 men develop prostate cancer in Sweden each year. Just why prostate cancer is so common is still something of a mystery, but age, ethnicity and genes are usually considered risk factors. However, several studies also show that diet also has an important part to play. Recently, scientists have become interested in the protective effect of oestrogen-like compounds in plants, or phytoestrogens. In countries like China and Japan, people ingest more of these compounds than in the west, and the incidence of prostate cancer is lower. Phytoestrogens are usually divided into two groups: lignans and isoflavones, the former being found mainly in linseed, rye, berries and vegetables, the latter in soya beans.
Scientists at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics have studied the correlation between prostate cancer and phytoestrogen in a large population-based case-control study. Involving 1,499 patients between the ages of 35 and 79 with recently diagnosed prostate cancer, it is the largest study of its kind on a western population. 1,130 healthy controls were identified through a process of matching by age and place of residence. All participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about their dietary habits and to take a blood test. A smaller group (209 cases and 214 controls) had the amount of the phytoestrogen enterolactone in their blood measured.
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