Saturated fats and prostate cancer risk — again

Data from the North Carolina-Louisiana Prostate Cancer Project, a projected funded by the Department of Defense’s Prostate Cancer Research Program, have again shown that diets high in saturated fats seem to increase risk for aggressive forms of prostate cancer. The data were presented on Tuesday at the ongoing annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

According to a report on the ScienceDaily web site, Allott and colleagues from the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and collaborating institutions were able to use data from 1,854 men, collected between 2004 and 2009, to show that:

… high dietary saturated fat content is associated with increased prostate cancer aggressiveness. … This may suggest that limiting dietary saturated fat content, which we know is important for overall health and cardiovascular disease prevention, may also have a role in prostate cancer.

The research team was careful to differentiate between intake of dietary saturated fat and total dietary fat intake so that they could discriminate between the impact of saturated fat and total fat intake. According to the ScienceDaily report, the research team was able to show that:

  • Higher saturated fat intake was linked to increased prostate cancer aggressiveness.
  • Men taking statins had weaker associations between saturated fat intake and prostate cancer aggressiveness.
  • Men with higher levels of polyunsaturated fats (i.e. the fats found in foods like fish and nuts) were associated with lower levels of prostate cancer aggressiveness.

While none of this is new information, these data further confirm the long-held belief that men with diets high in saturated fats, from things like fatty red meat, cheese, etc., are at greater risk for clinically significant prostate cancer because such a diet is associated with higher levels of cholesterol and its metabolites, which would be countered by use of statins to lower cholesterol.

One thing that is interesting about this study, however, is that the North Carolina-Louisiana Prostate Cancer Project was specifically designed to look at the diets of men who had comparable levels of education, income, and other social factors in two rural areas of southern America, and the database included a much higher than normal participation by African American men that is often the case in this type of epidemiological study.

On the other hand, epidemiological studies like this can not be used to “prove” a cause and an effect hypothesis. The research team is apparently hoping to be able to further investigate the mechanisms behind these associations.

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