Can high levels of dietary calcium lower risk for prostate cancer?

Case-control studies based on data from self-reported questionnaires of people’s diets are rarely the most accurate predictors of reality. However, for what it is worth, a new study has reported that higher levels of calcium in a man’s normal diet may be associated with a lower risk for diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Williams et al., in an article in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, hypothesized that adequate intake of calcium in the normal diet (i.e., not through the use of calcium supplements) would be positively associated with lower risk for prostate cancer. To test this hypothesis, they used data from a study carried out between 2007 and 2010 among US veterans at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.

The study was based on data from 108 patients diagnosed with biopsy-positive prostate cancer, 161 biopsy-negative control patients, and 237 healthy controls. All 506 men were asked to take the Harvard food frequency questionnaire to assess their diet and estimate their normal dietary calcium intake.

The results of the study showed that:

  • Intake of calcium in food was inversely related to risk for prostate cancer among all races
    • When patients with  cancer were compared to biopsy-negative controls (P =0 .05) and
    • When patients with cancer were compared to healthy controls (P = 0.02).
  •  The total level of calcium intake was associated with a reduction in risk for prostate cancer black men but not among white men in analyses of healthy controls.
  • Men in the highest 33.3 percent (“tertile”) for intake of calcium in their normal diet had a lower risk for high-grade prostate cancer (i.e., a Gleason score of 7 or higher)
    • When men with high-grade cancer were compared to biopsy-negative controls (OR = 0.37) and
    • When men with high-grade cancer were compared to healthy controls (OR = 0.38)

The authors conclude that higher adequate levels of calcium in the normal diet are “associated with lower risk for prostate cancer, particularly among black men, and lower risk for high-grade prostate cancer among all men.”

Clearly, this finding needs to be investigated in other studies, but — in the interim — for those interested in ensuring a high level of calcium in their normal diets, a list of foods that include high levels of calcium can be found if you click here. Just remember that high levels of dairy products in the diet may come with other problems.

4 Responses

  1. Interesting, I was a heavy milk drinker all my life, and even up until age 45 I was drinking “red cap” whole milk every day! Yet, by age 65 I had had an RP.

    I was very active physically, but my weight had reached 212, and for a 5 foot 10 inch body I was overweight and my Ch was at 295. So although this study says that there might be a benefit from natural calcium, and I do believe that there is validity to this finding, the bigger issue still remains … fat in men’s diets!

    Asian men in Asia have the lowest rate of prostate cancer in the world. Black men in America have the highest rate of prostate cancer. But when Asian men come to this country to live, and eat our diets, their rate of prostate cancer is the same as Caucasian men! Hello! Do you hear bells going off guys? Fat, fat, fat in our diets. So calcium may be very good for us men, but from which source? Whole milk? I think not.

  2. There is research by Skinner and Schwartz published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in September 2008 that finds a positive correlation between serum calcium levels in the blood, more aggressive/higher-risk prostate cancer, and consequently, more prostate cancer-specific death. In their article titled “Serum calcium and incident and fatal prostate cancer in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey,” they say:

    “In this prospective cohort, we observed an approximate 3-fold increased risk for fatal prostate cancer among men in the upper tertile of the distribution of serum calcium.”

    I do not know if there is a direct relationship between dietary calcium intake and serum calcium, but a high calcium level in the blood is not a good thing. Personally, I have had high serum calcium for many years, make calcium deposits, and do have a high Gleason grade; I consume very little dairy, albeit a lot of leafy, dark green vegetables.

    There is a fair amount of discussion and research discouraging consumption of animal protein, especially dairy; one example is Ornish’s research. The China Study by T. Colin Campbell has an extensive bibliography.

  3. There is little doubt that this is a complex issue. The precise source of the dietary calcium and the capacity of individuals to metabolize products containing calcium are likely to to have high relevance to the exact risks involved.

  4. … and here’s another excellent and free resource available online with a very good reference list.

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