Natural Prostate Health
Men who consume tomatoes, tomato-based foods, guavas, watermelon, and pink grapefruit are reportedly less likely to develop prostate cancer. A powerful antioxidant agent called lycopene gives these foods their characteristic red color.
Due to the problem's magnitude, this article's purpose is to highlight various prostate-enhancing nutritional, herbal, and alternative approaches that may help avert more serious pharmaceutical and surgical therapies. Using these preventive approaches should not, however, lull you into foregoing regular prostate-screening exams.
The three most common prostate disorders are (1) an inflammatory infection called prostatitis; (2) benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a prevalent non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate; and (3) cancer, the most frequent male malignancy.
Prostate disorders are associated with age-related changes in steroid sex hormones. After age 40, testosterone declines, and a testosterone variant called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and the female-associated hormone estrogen increase. DHT stimulates cell growth and, in turn, prostate enlargement. By inhibiting DHT elimination, estrogen has the same effect.
Food and Nutrient Supplements
Prostate dysfunction has been called a nutritional disease. It is much more common in developed Western countries that emphasize animal-derived foods such as red meat, dairy products, and eggs, all of which tend to accumulate environmental toxins. In contrast, fruit- and vegetable-rich diets exert a protective effect.
Scientific studies are challenging some entrenched views on what we have traditionally considered nutritionally wholesome foods. For example, countries that consume the most milk have the highest incidence of prostate cancer. The culprit appears to be milk's calcium.
In contrast, men who consume tomatoes, tomato-based foods (e.g., ketchup, pasta, etc.), guavas, watermelon, and pink grapefruit are reportedly less likely to get prostate cancer. These foods contain a powerful antioxidant agent called lycopene (see www.lycopene.org) that gives them their characteristic red color. Available as a nutritional supplement, lycopene may not only prevent prostate cancer but also could reduce existing tumor size.
Another prostate-protecting food is fructose, the sugar in fruit used to sweeten many foods. Unlike calcium, fructose stimulates the production of a vitamin D form said to inhibit tumors.
Several trace nutrients often deficient in our diet also enhance prostate health. For example, a lack of zinc especially affects the prostate because this gland uses it much more than any other body part. By altering steroid hormone metabolism, zinc supplementation can reduce prostate enlargement. Interestingly, pumpkin seeds, a traditional folk remedy promoting male reproductive and prostate health, are rich in zinc.
Selenium is another often deficient trace nutrient essential for prostate health. Increasing selenium intake, whether through supplements or selenium-rich foods (e.g., Brazil nuts), has been shown to reduce prostate-cancer risk.
Other nutritional factors that may inhibit prostate cancer include vitamin D; vitamin E, an antioxidant that inhibits cancer growth; soy-based foods, which contain the cancer-inhibiting agent, genistein; and garlic, which possesses cancer-fighting, sulfur-containing compounds.
In Europe, herbal remedies are widely used to treat prostate disorders. In America, however, a regulatory charade makes these remedies available by pretending they are merely dietary supplements ("The Healing Power of Herbal Medicine," January, March 2001). Because of the extensive scientific base that often supports their use, they are much more than folk remedies.
Foremost among these herbs is saw palmetto, isolated from the berries of a small palm tree common to the U.S.'s southeastern coastal region. A traditional Native American remedy, saw palmetto reportedly reduces prostate enlargement by inhibiting the synthesis of growth-stimulating DHT and promoting DHT elimination by lowering estrogen levels.
Many clinical studies demonstrate saw palmetto's effectiveness. In fact, the herb is said to work better in treating prostate enlargement than the frequently prescribed drug, Proscar. And since the drug is less effective, much more expensive, and its major side effect is erectile dysfunction, choosing saw palmetto seems self-evident.
Often administered with saw palmetto, another herbal heavyweight is pygeum. An indigenous Africanremedy obtained from tree bark, studies indicate that pygeum can treat BPH and prostatitis. The herb also contains chemicals that inhibit DHT-associated prostate enlargement.
A third herbal remedy is cernilton, a popular European product prepared mainly from the extract of rye pollen. Numerous studies document cernilton's ability to treat BPH and prostatitis.
Finally, stinging nettle is a traditional herbal folk remedy for many ailments, including prostate disorders. Clinical studies indicate the herb (marketed as Bazoton in Europe) also can relieve BPH symptoms.
Homeopathy is a popular alternative healing tradition ("Homeopathy: An Alternative to Overmedication?" January 1999) that offers several remedies for prostate disorders. Although often confused with herbal and nutritional therapies that bear similar names, homeopathy is based on fundamentally different principles. With homeopathy's like-cures-like philosophy, substances that cause symptoms of illness in healthy people can be used in exceedingly low doses to cure similar symptoms.
According to the Consumer Guide to Homeopathy (Dana Ullman, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995), homeopathic remedies for prostate disorders include chimaphilla umbellata, pulsatilla, clematis, apis, staphysagria, selenium, baryta carb, kali bic, and causticum.
One way or another, economic factors pervasively influence our health. It is hard to know who to listen to. Even though (1) safer, less expensive, and more effective options are often available, (2) a blue-ribbon federal health advisory committee concluded that too many prostate surgeries are being performed, and (3) everyone complains about soaring medical costs, American men still spend billions of dollars annually on surgical and pharmaceutical treatments that often possess serious side effects. Knowledge is power. If we don't want economic factors influencing our health, we need to reclaim more responsibility for it and further educate ourselves on healing options.
You can purchase most of the supplements and products referenced throughout this article at nutritional stores, through mail-order catalogs, or on the Internet.
For a list of literature citations used to prepare this article, see below.
NUTRITION AND SUPPLEMENTS:
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HERBAL REMEDIES AND PROSTATE HEALTH:
Breza J, Dzurny O, Borowka A, Hanus T, Petric R, Blane G, Chadha-Boreham H, "Efficacy and acceptability of tadenan (Pygeum africanum extract) in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): a multicentre trial in central Europe," Current Medical Research and Opinion, 14 (3), 1998, pp. 127-139.
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Buck AC, Rees RWM, Ebeling L, John A, "Treatment of outflow tract obstruction due to benign prostatic hyperplasia with the pollen extract, Cernilton: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study," British Journal of Urology 66, 1990, 398-404.
Cristoni A, Di Pierro F, Bombardelli E., "Botanical derivatives for the prostate," Fitoterapia, 71, Supplement 1, August 2000, pp. 21-28.
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