ADT and Metabolic Syndrome

Part Two of Four

Metabolic syndrome includes an unholy cluster of bad things that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Elevated blood pressure; unhealthy levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides; and abdominal fat – a big jelly donut of visceral fat, also known as “heart attack fat,” right around your belly, a cardiac spare tire. A big gut equals a bigger risk for diabetes, heart attack and stroke.  All of this is magnified with ADT, androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer.

Maybe you already have some of these risk factors; maybe you’ve already had a heart attack, or you’ve got diabetes. If you need ADT, you need it.

But hear these words: You will need to fight what it’s doing to do to the rest of your body, even as it saves you from your prostate cancer.

You will need to get mad at it. Work hard to take back your life – work doubly hard, because not only will it try to turn you into a tub of butter, but you might get mildly depressed. Your brain will tell you that you’re too tired to exercise. It’s deceiving you. You must not listen to it. Exercise anyway.

Here’s what you’re up against: Normally, if a man wants to lose a pound, he needs to burn 3,500 calories. A man on ADT who wants to lose that same pound needs to burn 4,500 calories. He’s slogging upstream with ankle weights. His metabolism is slower, his sugar metabolism is messed up, his blood pressure may be higher, and for many reasons, he probably feels like crap. Maybe he stops taking care of himself.   This is the worst thing he can do.

You need to be aware of this, because it might not be on your doctor’s radar.

Just as important, you need to enlist your family and friends, NOT ONLY to help push you to exercise and eat right – cut way down on the carbs and sugar, especially – but to tell you if you seem depressed, because depression might have snuck up on you, and you might not have noticed it.

I recently interviewed medical oncologist Jonathan Simons, M.D., CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and medical oncologist Alicia Morgans, M.D., of Northwestern University, about ADT for the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s website.

All of these things can be fought, both doctors say. However, “if you just go back to the urologist or oncologist for a 5-minute appointment and another Lupron shot, you are probably not getting the monitoring you need,” says Simons. Depression may not show up in a brief doctor’s visit. Even if the scale shows that you’ve put on weight, your doctor might say, “Well, that’s common with ADT.”

Years ago, when doctors first started using ADT, “men didn’t live that long,” Morgans notes. “Now, men are living for years or even decades on ADT, and if that stops working, there are other drugs that can help, and exciting new types of drugs showing amazing results for some men in clinical trials.” This is very good news; however, the downside is that doctors might just think, “hey, it’s great, he’s still alive and his PSA is not moving up.”

But we know that weight gain is not only a common side effect of ADT; it’s bad. It’s also something you can help prevent. You need to exercise, with cardio (walking, swimming, riding a bike, aerobics, jogging, etc.,) plus weights for strength. These can be light weights; you don’t need to turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger and bench-press a Volkswagon Beetle or anything like that. You just need to keep your muscles working. Exercise will help with depression, with the cardiac risks, and with the risk to your brain. As University of Colorado radiation oncologist E. David Crawford, M.D., recently put it, “What’s heart healthy is usually prostate-cancer healthy… I’ve got a number of (patients on ADT) who are in great shape and they’re tolerating [treatment] quite well. These are the people who are out there, who continue to lift weights, they continue to exercise, they watch their diet.”

The metabolic syndrome that ADT causes may be a major reason – nobody knows for certain yet – why some men who are on ADT have cognitive impairment.

Coming up next:  ADT and cognitive impairment.

In addition to the book, I have written about this story and much more about prostate cancer on the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s website, The stories I’ve written are under the categories, “Understanding Prostate Cancer,” and “For Patients.”  As Patrick Walsh and I have said for years in our books, Knowledge is power: Saving your life may start with you going to the doctor, and knowing the right questions to ask. I hope all men will put prostate cancer on their radar. Get a baseline PSA blood test in your early 40s, and if you are of African descent, or if cancer and/or prostate cancer runs in your family, you need to be screened regularly for the disease. Many doctors don’t do this, so it’s up to you to ask for it.

  ©Janet Farrar Worthington


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