June 14, 2008

Diet, Herbs, and Prostate Cancer

There are multiple problems that can develop in the prostate in older men. These include benign enlargement of the prostate (BPH) and prostate cancer (CaP). Some writers would suggest that BPH and prostate cancer are inevitable problems that occur in any man who lives long enough, but this is not true. There are many dietary and herbal interventions that can help prevent these problems.

BPH or enlargement of the prostate causes a weak stream, nighttime urination, frequent urination and retention of urine in the bladder. It is commonly treated with two types of prescribed medicines; finasteride (Proscar) and alpha-adrenergic blockers such as terazosin. In severe cases, surgical resection of the prostate through the urethra is performed. Saw Palmetto, derived from the American dwarf pine tree, is effective at treating early BPH. It inhibits the conversion of testosterone to dihydro-testosterone and therefore leads to shrinkage of the prostate. This is incidentally the same mechanism by which finasteride works. In fact, it has similar efficacy as finasteride with fewer side effects. Stinging nettle, which inhibits the growth of prostate cells, is commonly added to saw palmetto in Europe to treat early BPH.

Prostate Cancer is the most common cancer in men with approximately 230,000 new cases annually. It is second only to lung cancer in deaths with 30,000 men dying each year. Prostate cancer risk is affected by male hormones as well diet. Men in the orient have a very low risk of prostate cancer, while men in Western Europe and United States have a high risk of prostate cancer. Furthermore, when men in the Orient eat a Western diet their risk of prostate cancer increases.


The typical American diet high in animal meat, cured meats, animal fats, and milk increases the risk of prostate cancer. This type of diet not only leads to CaP but also to other cancers, heart disease and strokes.


Diets high in vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids are the best way to prevent prostate cancer. Additionally, you can consider adding some of the following.

Soy protein (isoflavones) in the diet protects against CaP by altering the production and metabolism of male hormones and estrogen. In the orient, it is thought that the high soy content contributes to the low incidence of prostate cancer.

Fish and omega-3 fatty acids (olive oil) are associated with a decreased risk of CaP. They are anti-inflammatory and improve health of blood vessels. Olive oil has been shown to directly inhibit growth of prostate cancer cells. Flaxseed another omega-3 fatty acid also has phyto-estrogen activity. In a study by Duke University, flaxseed was found to inhibit CaP cells in men who were undergoing prostatectomy.

Saw Palmetto may help to prevent CaP by inhibiting the conversion of testosterone to dihydro-testosterone. Its anti-inflammatory effect further inhibits cancer formation.

Stinging Nettle has been shown to inhibit the growth of prostate cells and prostate cancer cells both in the laboratory and in mice. Further human studies are needed.

Green Tea (polyphenols and isoflavones) has multiple effects including anti-oxidant, anti-proliferative, anti-angiogenesis, and encourages natural cell death (apoptosis). There are strong data in the orient for its use in preventing prostate cancer.

Lycopene (tomatoes) is a powerful anti-oxidant and therefore prevents damage to the prostate from oxygen radicals. Oxidative damage has been linked to chronic diseases and cancers.

Selenium, an essential mineral, is found in our diet. It has many activities including inhibition of prostate cancer as well as other cancers. Higher blood concentrations of selenium correlate with a decreased risk of prostate cancer.

Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts) contain sulforaphane and indole-3 carbinol. These substances induce enzymes in the GI tract to break down cancer causing substances. They are also excellent anti-oxidants.

Pumpkin seeds contain zinc and are thought to help with BPH. Zinc in small amounts appears to protect against prostate cancer but high amounts of zinc (100mg/day) may increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Prostate problems are not inevitable in men. A healthy diet and some herbs can go a long way in preventing prostate problems and possibly even prostate cancer.

Robert Avery MD, is a practicing oncologist in the St. Louis area. He has a keen interest not only in cancer care and therapy but also nutrition and how is helps prevent cancer. He is owner of Citrine Sun, an online company dedicated to helping cancer patients through every stage of their illness through education and natural supplements. An interesting newsletter and information about helpful supplements are available at his website, http://www.citrinesun.com Contact Dr. Avery through his email, AskDrAvery@citrinesun.com

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