Coauthored by Hugo Burgin and Michael Dello-Iacovo
Depending on where you live you may have noticed a steady increase in the number of “Fuzzy Caterpillars,” floating around your workplace or local supermarket. It is “Movember,” after all.
The Movember Foundation was registered in 2004 by a group of friends hoping to raise funds for Men’s Health awareness, the main focus being Prostate Cancer. Since then the organisation has gone global in addition to expanding its efforts to cover men’s health more generally.
- In 2015 NGO Advisor ranks the Movember Foundation as 55th in the top 500 NGOs around the world.
- Over 5 million participants from 21 countries having taken place from 2003.
- CAD $759 Million has been raised since 2003 with 1200 men’s health projects receiving funding.
It is obvious then that the “Movember,” movement has done and continues to do a significant amount of good within Western Society. Although the foundation began with a focus on prostate cancer, they have now expanded their efforts to include a wider variety of Men’s Health initiatives.
If we look in more detail at some statistics surrounding Prostate Cancer in particular, it’s clear to see that within our society it is an issue well worth addressing. According to the Cancer Australia website:
- Prostate cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia in 2012. It is estimated that it will remain the most commonly diagnosed cancer in 2016.
- In 2016, it is estimated that the risk of a male being diagnosed with prostate cancer by their 85th birthday will be 1 in 6.
- In 2013, there were 3,112 deaths from prostate cancer in Australia. In 2016, it is estimated that this will increase to 3,398 deaths.
- In 2013, prostate cancer accounted for the 2nd highest number of deaths from cancer among males in Australia. It is estimated that it will remain the 2nd most common cause of death from cancer among males in 2016.
Taking part in “Movember,” and fuzzying up your top lip, seeking sponsors is a great endeavour and we applaud in every way each participant but as with every charity initiative it is worth asking, how effective is the action I’m taking at solving the problem I’m trying to solve and are there better ways of doing it? In this case, it is clear that there are not only more effective ways to combat health issues like prostate cancer in men but ways that can prevent the problem before it’s even begun.
Dairy Consumption & Prostate Cancer Risk
For example the latest Meta-Analysis studies of both case-controlled and cohort studies on the consumption of cow’s milk show conclusively that there is a positive association between the consumption of cow’s milk and prostate cancer risk in men. Additionally, the intake of large amount of dairy products between the ages of 14-19 has also been associated with a 3-fold elevation in risk for advanced prostate cancer in later life. The leading factor behind this elevated risk is the large amounts of exogenous hormones (like estrogens) that can be found in cow’s milk. As a species we are the only ones on the planet that are subjected to external hormone manipulation, from sources such as milk, from the perinatal period into adulthood.
Additionally, once diagnosed with prostate cancer the elimination of dairy products has been found to increase survival rates. Once diagnosed, men who consumed greater than or equal to 3 servings of dairy per day were found to have a 76% higher risk of total mortality and a 141% higher risk of prostate cancer mortality compared to those than consumed less than a single serve a day.
Finally, if we haven’t convinced you yet that a link exists between dairy consumption and prostate cancer it pays to have a look at the graph below. Here we see milk consumption per day plotted against mortality rate from prostate cancer in countries from around the world, and while we admit correlation by no means implies causation it would be foolish to ignore such a trend given the substantial amount of complimentary evidence.
Taken from: D. Ganmaa, X.-M. Li, J. Wang, L.-Q. Qin, P.-Y. Wang, A. Sato. Incidence and mortality of testicular and prostatic cancers in relation to world dietary practices. Int. J. Cancer. 2002 98(2):262 – 267)
Meat Consumption and Prostate Cancer Risk
In 2015, the World Health Organisation announced that processed meat (e.g. bacon and sausages) was a Group 1 carcinogen – carcinogenic to humans. This means that there is strong, convincing evidence for it causing cancer in humans. Tobacco and asbestos are both Group 1 carcinogens. While it is true that regular processed meat consumption doesn’t increase cancer risk as much as regular tobacco consumption, this should still be alarming.
More alarming is that schools still serve processed meat to children at schools as snacks. To put that another way, schools are feeding known carcinogens to children. Now that we have the evidence, this needs to stop. According to the WHO, there is no safe amount of processed meat that can be consumed, and so raising the argument of ‘all things in moderation’ does not seem valid here.
Red meat was also classified by WHO as a Group 2A carcinogen – probably carcinogenic to humans. This means that there is some, but at this time limited evidence for red meat causing cancer to humans.
Red meat has been associated with prostate, colorectal and pancreatic cancer, and processed meat has been associated with stomach and colorectal cancer.
Why is this so important for Movember and men’s health? Prostate cancer is one of the main focal points of the Movember campaign, however one of the ways of promoting concern for this has been through typical ‘mens’ activities, like barbecues. Given the amount of meat consumption at barbecues, it is easy to see the conflict here.
PCFA, the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, recently had an advertising push for their Big Aussie Barbie, encouraging people to talk about prostate cancer. In none of their messaging did I see them asking people to choose foods that don’t cause prostate cancer.
While we don’t cover it here, red and processed meat are also both associated with a number of other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
Plant Based Diets & Depression
In Australian culture especially, there often seems to be a myth that those who consume a wholly vegetarian or vegan diet are depressed. We can assure you that it is exactly that: A Myth! In 2014 a systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression in adults found that a healthy diet pattern was significantly associated with a reduced chance of depression. One randomised control trial included within this review found that removing meat, fish, poultry and eggs from the diet of a previously omnivorous study group saw mood scores in a number of areas increase after only 14 days. Why is this you ask? Consuming a vegetarian or vegan diet will result in a much higher level of antioxidants in the body which can reduce the detrimental effect of stress on mental health. One of the most power anti-oxidants out there is Lycopene (it’s what makes tomatoes red) which again has been shown to prevent severe depressive symptoms in Adults.
Additionally low blood-folate levels have been associated with clinical depression in humans which in many western individuals can be traced back to an overconsumption of highly processed food. So perhaps next time you’re feeling a little blue hit yourself with some greens!
Exercise & Depression
Anyone who does regular exercise will tell you that it’s a mood enhancer and this has been scientifically proven. A 2011 study expanded on this and linked regular physical activity to a decrease of severe depressive symptoms in adults from age 15 – 54. There is the arguments that in this case the cause and effect may be the other way around (eg: people who are depressed are unable to exercise) however this theory has also been tested: Men and women over 50 suffering from major depression were randomised to complete a 10 week aerobic exercise program or start a 10 week course of antidepressant medication. This study found that after ten weeks regular exercise was just as effective at combating severed depression as the medication and without all the unpleasant side effects that often come with antidepressants. At best regular physical exercise has been shown to have a significant effect on reductions in depression syndromes.
Implications for Movember and Campaigning for (Men’s) Health
We would like to advocate for a plant-based diet to be incorporated as a core component of messaging for health campaigns, especially campaigns such as Movember. Raising awareness without promoting good diet change has a diminished effect, which is compounded by typical activities organised to raise awareness for men’s health, such as barbecues.
The health, environmental and ethical reasons for choosing to not consume animal products are many, and there are increasingly fewer reasons to advocate for consuming them, or to remain silent on the issue.
What we hope to achieve with this short post is to convey to you that while growing a moustache to raise awareness for Men’s Health, is at its core a noble undertaking, there is a way to prevent many of these specific health issues entirely. From there, imagine what an event like “Movember,” could do for highly effective charity causes such as The Against Malaria Foundation, De-Worm the World or give directly. Groups that have shown to solve issues that have no other plausible solution like a simple change in diet and that quantitatively save lives than will otherwise go unsaved.
L.-Q. Qin, J.-Y. Xu, P.-Y. Wang, J. Tong, K. Hoshi. Milk consumption is a risk factor for prostate cancer in Western countries: Evidence from cohort studies. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007 16(3):467 – 476.
Bouvard, D. Loomis, K. Z. Guyton, Y. Grosse, F. El Ghissassi, L. Benbrahim-Talla, N. Guha, H. Mattock, K. Straif, Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat, The Lancet, 2015, 16(16):1599-1600.
Yokoyama, et al, Vegetarian diets and blood pressure: A meta-analysis, The Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine, 2014, 174:577-587.
N. Appleby, T. J. Key, The long-term health of vegetarians and vegans, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, Conference on ‘The future of animal products in the human diet: health and environmental concerns’, 2015.
Key, T.J et al, Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999, 70:516-524.