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Preventing Prostate Cancer Through Diet

by David Taylor(more info)

listed in cancer, originally published in issue 88 - May 2003

My mother phoned me recently and offered to host my 50th birthday at her house in South West France. "The weather will be kinder in May and the food will be wonderful." The conversation reminded me of two things, firstly I am hitting the half-century this year and secondly, I need to be focusing more attention on the health of my prostate.

For all men, prostate health ought be a top priority. Inflammation of the prostate gland affects 30% of men aged 20 to 40.[1] Evidence also shows that nearly half of men will, by the time they reach 60, experience some urinary problems related to benign postatic hyperplasia (BPH), rising to 80% by the age of 80.[2] Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in men in the UK, and it is on the increase. As well as this, although screening may help in early detection, detection alone does not translate into improved survival.

It seems then that prevention is better than cure. So what should one do to minimize the risk? Research shows considerable evidence linking the role of food and nutrition in both prevention and treatment of all cancers. Indeed the World Cancer Research Fund[3] cites over 3000 references and includes such evidence that 30%-40% of all cancers could be prevented using appropriate diet, and that at least 20% could be prevented just by increasing the amount of dietary fruit and vegetables.

Keeping a healthy prostate then can be achieved by making some minor adjustments to our diet. Foods rich in zinc and selenium should be at the top of the shopping list as well as foods rich in Omega-3 fats. Research shows that vitamin E and selenium have proved effective against prostate cancer,[4] while selenium supplementation has been associated with substantial reductions in the incidence of prostate cancer.[5] The prostate uses ten times more zinc than any other organ. Zinc supports the immune system, reproductive and musculoskeletal system as well actively scavenging free radicals. Zinc does, however, require the intake of vitamin B6 in order to convert it to a form readily absorbed by the body.

Here are my top foods for protecting your prostate:

* Oily fish containing omega-3 fats and selenium, such as tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines. You need to eat about three portions per week. Oysters, if you like them, are also a great source of zinc and selenium;
* Tomatoes, and tomato base foods such as tomato paste and tomato sauce contain the antioxidant lycopane, which may significantly reduce the risk of prostate cancer. A tomato a day cuts the risk of prostate cancer by 20%.[6] I personally eat at least one tomato each day and use tomato puree extensively in cooking;
* Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower cabbage and spring greens are packed with anti-cancer phytochemcals called isothiocyanates. Eating these foods each day can halve your cancer risk.[6]
* Allium vegetables such as garlic, spring onions and leeks appear to protect against some cancers;[7],[8]
* Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium;
* Flax seeds are one of the richest sources of omega-3 fats. Sprinkle them on your muesli or add to soups just before serving;
* Pumpkin seeds are packed with plant sterols, zinc and essential fatty acids;
* Sesame and sunflower seeds are rich in selenium, vitamin E, calcium and zinc. Again, sprinkle over your muesli;
* Watermelon flesh is packed with lycopane, vitamin C and carotenoids while the seeds are a rich source of vitamin E, essential fats, selenium and zinc;
* Soya products and tofu are excellent sources of protein and isoflavones. Isoflavones decrease the risk of hormone related cancers like prostate and breast cancers;
* Water. We do not drink enough water. About six glasses a day seems about right;
* You should also cut down on dairy products.

The thing to bear in mind when preparing food is that all cooking destroys nutrients. The degree of destruction depends upon cooking time and cooking temperature. When you deep fry, your food is cooked in temperatures above 200°C. At these temperatures, fat oxidises and essential fatty acids turn into trans fats that are no use to you nutritionally. Steaming on the other hand minimizes nutrient loss and some foods can just be eaten raw. Try snacking on raw carrots and cauliflower.

Microwaving water-based foods like fruits and vegetables lead to minimum nutrient loss. This is because microwaving generates heat by vibrating water particles. However, the heat generated by microwaving oil-based foods such as fish, nuts or seeds leads to rapid breakdown of essential fats. The tip for microwaving then is do not use for oil-based foods. Oil-based foods can be steamed (fish for instance) or slow cooked at a lower temperature.

If you are going to supplement, then selenium at 200 mcg a day would be a good starting point. Other additions should be the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E and the mineral zinc. Ideally we should all go and live near my mother in South West France, grow plentiful organic fruit and vegetables and shop for such items as oysters on a daily basis. In the meantime adjusting your shopping list and the way you prepare your food will go a long way towards maintaining a high quality of life in the years post 50.

References

1. Ludwig I et al. Diagnosis and therapy of Chronic prostatitis, in Benign Prostate Diseases. Ed Vahlensieck and Rutishauser. Thieme Medical Publishers. NY. 1992.
2. Baker P. Out of the Water Closet: it's time to tackle benign prostate disease. Men's Health Forum. London. 2001.
3. World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) in association with American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, nutrition and the prevention of cancer: a global perspective. World Cancer Research Fund. 1997.
4. Patterson RE. et al. Vitamin supplements and cancer risk: the epidemiological evidence. Cancer Causes Control. 8(5): 786-802. 1997.
5. Clark LC et al. Decreased incidence of prostate cancer with selenium supplementation: results of a double-blind cancer prevention trial. British Journal of Urology. 81(5): 730-4. 1997.
6. Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, World Cancer Research Fund. American Institute for Cancer Research. Washington DC. 1997.
7. You W et al. J Natl Cancer Inst. 8(2): 162-164. 1989.
8. Steinmetz et al. Am J Epid. 139(1):1-15. 1994.

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About David Taylor

David Taylor is a psychologist with a background in psychopharmacology and development. From working with children he developed an interest in the effects of environmental factors, particularly the effects of nutrition, upon mental and physical health. He is co-director of Optimum Nutrition North East in Durham City, with his wife Sandra, a health psychologist. They take a holistic approach to health and wellbeing focussing upon nutrition, stress and lifestyle. For more information about Optimum Nutrition North East and the services and products available Tel: 0191 3849088; E: dtaylor@onne.freeserve.co.uk; W: www.foryourhealth.co.uk

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