Nutritional Supplement: Prostate Cancer Prevention

Sometimes, dietary and lifestyle changes can improve prostate health.


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A preventive approach to prostate problems

The prostate is a small gland situated beneath the bladder in the male reproductive system. The walnut-size gland, which is vital to semen production, is prone to both noncancerous and cancerous ailments. Symptoms for both benign and malignant prostate diseases are similar, ranging from the need to urinate frequently to the complete inability to urinate.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or a noncancerous enlargement of the gland, affects 60 percent of men between the ages of forty and fifty-nine; it is estimated that four of every five men will develop BPH by age eighty. Prostate cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in men.

Although the causes of BPH and prostate cancer aren’t clear, research on both diseases suggests that testosterone and life changes have roles to play. As a normal result of aging, the prostate gland may begin to enlarge when a man is in his late forties. Because the prostate surrounds the urethra, its enlargement may restrict urine flow to varying degrees, which can lead to chronic kidney disease. An enlarged prostate’s greater number of cells also contributes to a steady, slight rise in prostate-specific antigen, or PSA. The PSA count jumps sharply when prostate cells become cancerous, so an elevated PSA count is considered to be a cancer warning signal.

Natural therapies

Some 40,400 men die of prostate cancer each year in the United States, or about fourteen deaths per 100,000 men. Conversely, in Japan only two deaths per 100,000 men are attributed to prostate cancer.

Doctors practicing alternative prostate treatments in the United States, such as Michael Schachter, M.D., director of the Schachter Center for Complementary Medicine in Suffern, New York, and James Forsythe, M.D., of the Century Wellness Center in Reno, Nevada, say that a diet low in or free of meat and high in soy foods, vegetables, and fruits accounts for Japan’s low incidence of prostate cancer; some researchers believe that isoflavones in soy foods may block adverse hormonal effects and inhibit the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors. More than 1,000 studies on the health benefits of soy foods during the past three years have convinced the American Cancer Society to name soy foods as one of the nutrients with the most scientific evidence of disease prevention (see “Nutrition Supplement” in Herbs for Health September/October 1997).

For those already diagnosed with prostate cancer, the immune system is overburdened by fighting the disease, so Forsythe and Schachter both recommend a meatless diet of organic foods, including plenty of vegetables, grains, and fruits, some of which contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and are generally rich in fiber and low in fat and sod­ium. They also suggest avoiding caffeine and alcohol because they irritate the bladder and refined sugar and white flour because they have low nutritional value. Once this diet is under way, Schachter and Forsythe recommend that prostate patients begin using ­dietary supplements.

“Over the years,” Forsythe says, “I have had many patients who did not wish to follow the conventional route of surgery” as a cancer treatment. Through dietary supplements and diet modifications, these patients commonly go five to ten years without a change in their PSA or a serious manifestation of the disease, Forsythe says.

Schacter recommends zinc to bolster the immune system; selenium, which one ten-year study shows may be a powerful prostate protector; vitamin B-6 to enhance zinc absorption; and beta-carotene and vitamins C and E to scavenge free radicals that can cause cancer.

It is important to discuss your concerns or wishes for alternative treatments with your health-care provider; never try to self-diagnose or self-treat cancer.