Presse Santé

How does diet stimulate or prevent prostate cancer?

A large intake of saturated fats, which is mainly found in foods of animal origin, stimulates the development of prostate cancer cells.

We already know that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats (particularly omega-3 monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids) reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death. This protection is due to the opposite effect of these two types of dietary fats on levels of harmful cholesterol. It is an important risk factor for heart attack and stroke. While saturated fats increase the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood, unsaturated fats lower levels of this type of cholesterol.

Saturated fats: high cholesterol and cancer

The majority of saturated fats come from foods of animal origin: meat, eggs, and dairy products. While unsaturated fats are found mainly in plants: vegetable oils, nuts and some seeds. Thus, the simple way to achieve a good balance between the intake of saturated and unsaturated fats is to increase the dietary intake of plants and at the same time reduce the consumption of animal products.

The negative impact of saturated fats on health is not limited to increasing levels of bad cholesterol. Several studies have shown that these fats also have a pro-inflammatory effect. It may contribute to the development of some serious diseases such as insulin resistance or the development of some types of cancer in the form of metastases.

Stimulating or preventing the development of prostate cancer

A recent study also suggested a link between saturated fat and the development of cancer. Using a mouse model expressing the MYC oncogene genetically predisposed to developing prostate cancer, these researchers observed that a diet rich in saturated fat was associated with significant changes in prostate cell metabolism. This resulted in the activation of several genes involved in tumor growth. Animals fed saturated fats had larger tumors than those fed a normal diet. This strongly suggests that these genes activated by saturated fats have a role in the development of prostate cancer.

Interestingly, this activation is reversible. Because low intake of saturated fat cancels out the increase in gene expression and nullifies tumor development. A very important point in the study is that this genetic signature, which is associated with a high intake of saturated fats, was also observed in patients with prostate cancer. The researchers used data on saturated fat consumption gained during epidemiological studies (the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Physicians’ Health Study). They noted that patients with prostate cancer who had the greatest gene activity in their cancer were four times more likely to die from their disease.

However, this increase is not observed for polyunsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fatty acids. This confirms that saturated fat-induced gene activation is responsible for tumor development.

By the age of 40, a third of men already have prostate micro-tumours

Low intake of saturated fat in the diet may slow the progression of prostate cancer. But it also reduces the risk of death associated with advanced forms of the disease. This is an important discovery. Because as of the age of 40, a third of men already have prostatic microscopic tumors. Therefore, they are at high risk of developing cancer of this organ in the following decades.

Prefer unsaturated fats of vegetable origin while limiting those of animal origin. So this could allow prostate micro-tumors to remain dormant. This dietary approach is a promising way to reduce the incidence of prostate cancer. With the added bonus of better cardiovascular health!


Boren J et al. Low-density lipoproteins cause atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease: pathophysiology, genetics and therapeutic insights: a consensus statement from the European Atherosclerosis Society consensus committee. euro. Heart J. February 2020.

Labbe DP et al. The high-fat diet fuels the progression of prostate cancer by rewiring the metabolite and amplifying the MYC program. nat. subscriber. 2019; 10:4358.

* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In any case, the information provided cannot replace the advice of a health professional.

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