September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Prostate Health Month. Prostate health isn’t something that is easily discussed. As a review, the prostate is a small organ that is located just under the bladder in men. Research has yet to show us exactly what it is doing there. Some believe its purpose is just to aggravate older men and give them one more reason to have to go to the doctor.
As men age, many deal with the problem of enlarged prostates. This can lead to painful urinary problems. Removal of the prostate doesn’t appear to have a major impact on men — only the surgery causes problems. The prostate is the No. 1 cancer spot for men. Of American men 30 to 40 years of age, 30 percent already have cancer cells in their prostates. By the age of 50 this figure rises to about 40 percent.
The prostate doesn’t have to be a problem for men — nutrition can have a significant influence. Like the rest of our body, good nutrition can keep prostate cells at bay while a poor diet can encourage cells to grow into a mass. It is possible to change habits such as nutrition and exercise to reduce inflammation and oxidation.
Fruits and vegetables for example contain antioxidants that increase the protective anti-inflammatory components of your diet. There is much evidence to supporting the association of diets high in fruits and vegetables with decreased risks of many types of cancers. Research has shown that men who consume at least 28 servings of vegetables per week had a reduced risk of prostate cancer compared with those who ate fewer than 14 servings per week. Some vegetables have been shown to have stronger cancer-preventing properties than others, especially cruciferous vegetables. These include cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and bok choy. Men who consumed three or more servings of cruciferous vegetables per week had a 41 percent decreased risk of prostate cancer compared with men who consumed less than one serving per week.
Other benefits of fruits and vegetables include vitamins, minerals and fiber, as well as cancer-fighting phytochemicals such as carotenoids, lycopene, indoles and flavonols. One study has indicated that fructose, or the sugar found in fruit, resulted in a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Fruits and vegetables
Consume at least five, but nine or 10 is better, servings of fruits and vegetables daily for the cancer-protection benefits. As a guide, one serving equals:
½ cup of fruits or vegetable
1 cup raw leafy greens
¼ cup dried fruit
6 fluid ounces of fruit or vegetable juice
Adequate daily intake of dietary fiber provides many benefits. Fiber is believed to bind to toxic compounds and carcinogens, which are then excreted from the body. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that prostate cancer mortality is inversely associated with consumption of cereals, nuts or seeds. One study indicated that a high-fiber diet helps to reduce hormone levels that may be involved in the progression of prostate cancer. Work toward consuming 25 to 35 grams of dietary fiber daily.
A low-fat diet is beneficial in many ways. It is believed that developed countries have an increased cancer risk partly due to consumption of a high-fat diet. Fat in the diet stimulates increased testosterone levels which are known to be associated with prostate cancer growth. The type of fat one consumes in significant. Aim for less saturated fat — 10 percent or less of your total daily calories. This is the fat that comes from red meat and whole milk and other dairy products.
Substitute olive oil or canola oil for your current cooking oil if you haven’t already done so. These oils are high in monounsaturated fats that have not been shown to increase cancer risk. Omega-3 fatty acids also may reduce your risk for prostate or other types of cancer progression. They have been found to suppress cancer cells. Research shows that men who ate no fish had a two to three times higher frequency of prostate cancer than those who ate moderate or high amounts of fish. Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include cold water fish such as trout, herring, sardines and salmon. Flaxseeds, walnuts, soybean and canola oil are other good non-fish sources of omega-3’s. Aim for two to three fish meals weekly for adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Limit the amount of simple sugar in your diet. Foods that are high in sugar are usually low in fiber, low in nutrient value and are usually highly processed and refined, overall providing little nourishment but a lot of calories.
A study at the University of Massachusetts tested the benefits of a diet change in 10 men with prostate cancer that had recurred after surgery. The diet was based on whole grains, legumes, green and yellow vegetables, seeds, soy products and fruit. The men were instructed in stress-reducing techniques as part of the process. Researchers tracked how long it took for the patients’ PSA levels to double. The longer the PSA took to double, the slower the cancer was spreading. Before the study the average PSA doubling was found to be 6.5 months. After four months in the program the doubling had slowed to 17.7 months. In three of the men in the study, their PSA levels actually fell.
More research into nutrition and prostate health will be of benefit, but there isn’t any reason not to start making some dietary changes today.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.