America’s infamous diet does more damage than just cause weight gain. Harvard researchers found patients diagnosed with prostate cancer increased their risk of dying if they followed the country’s eating habits. The study’s lead author Dr. Jorge Chavarro of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School said a Westernized diet full of processed meats, refined grains, potatoes, and high-fat dairy pushed prostate patients closer to the edge of death.

“Our results suggest that the same dietary recommendations that are made to the general population primarily for the prevention of cardiovascular disease may also decrease the risk of dying from prostate cancer among men initially diagnosed with nonmetastatic disease (cancer that has not spread)," Chavarro said in a statement. "Our findings with Western diet and prostate cancer-specific mortality, however, were surprising, in part because there are very little data regarding how diet after diagnosis may impact disease prognosis."

Researchers analyzed the diets of 926 men with nonmetastic prostate cancer five and 10 years after they were diagnosed. Over the course of the study, 333 men died — 56 of which died of prostate cancer. Those who followed a healthful diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes, and whole grains more aligned with the Mediterranean diet had a “significantly lower” mortality rate. However, men who ate closer to the Western diet not only put themselves at higher risk of dying from prostate cancer, but also all other causes of death.

"Because cardiovascular disease is one of the top causes of death among prostate cancer survivors," Chavarro said, “our findings regarding all-cause mortality are what we anticipated and closely align with the current knowledge of the role of diet on cardiovascular disease."

The study, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, adds to the accumulating data that shows America’s dietary habits can worsen risk for various cancer types in addition to other long-term life-threatening diseases like cardiovascular disease. In fact, poor diet and physical inactivity can be blamed for roughly one-third of all cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Adequate nutrition is imperative to cancer patients during and after diagnosis. Cancer and cancer treatments can change the way the body processes certain nutrients, according to ACS’s nutrition guide. The food a person puts into their body ultimately affects the way the body fights cancer and handles treatment regimens. It has the power to strengthen and energize, maintain weight and the body’s nutrient storages, improve treatment-related side effects, lower risk for infection, and help the body heal and recover faster. Nutrition isn’t the magic bullet, but it improves a person’s fighting chance to beat cancer.

Source: Chavarro JE, Yang M, Kenfield SA, et al. Dietary Patterns After Prostate Cancer Diagnosis in Relation to Disease-Specific and Total Mortality. Cancer Prevention Research. 2015.