Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: Canola oil and prostate health

Q. I use a lot of canola oil in cooking, because it's heart-healthy. My husband has prostate cancer, and I just heard that canola oil might make it worse. Is that really true and should I stop using it for cooking?

A. No, it's not true. Canola oil contains fat, and dietary fat has indeed been linked to prostate cancer. But a large study done here at Harvard 20 years ago and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that while a diet rich in animal fats (saturated or "bad" fats) raised the risk of prostate cancer by over 60%, there was no increased risk with fats from plant sources (generally "good" fats), like canola oil. Many subsequent epidemiological studies have found that diets typical in Japan and the southern Mediterranean area—diets rich in good fats—also protect against prostate cancer (and many other diseases). In addition, a study published in 2011 in the journal Carcinogenesis found that adding canola oil to the diet of mice decreased the risk of prostate cancer.

As we've said many times in these pages, diets rich in vegetables, fruits and fish are linked to lower rates of many types of cancer and cardiovascular disease. I advocate healthy eating with all my patients. When a patient is at particular risk for heart disease or cancer, including prostate cancer, I make a special effort to convince him to eat healthy. Your husband need not worry about canola oil.

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