Did you know that more men die each year from prostate cancer than women die of breast cancer and that prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in males? Yet we hear so little about prostate health and how to reduce the risk of developing diseases related to the prostate gland. There is a lot that can be done from a dietary and lifestyle perspective to improve the health of the prostate both from a preventative aspect and to improve quality of life if disease of the prostate is present.

The prostate is a walnut sized gland located directly underneath the bladder which is why urinary and bladder symptoms are often associated with conditions of the prostate. It is important to note that urinary and bladder symptoms or an elevated PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood reading does not automatically indicate cancer of the prostate. 

Benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH or enlarged prostate), prostatitis (infection in the prostate) or even a normal larger sized prostate can produce elevated PSA readings. It’s important to investigate the cause thoroughly as some of the side effects of the drugs sometimes prescribed to treat prostate cancer can be worse for the lifestyle of the patient than the disease itself. Generally cancer of the prostate has a long latency period which means many men diagnosed with the disease, will die with the disease rather than dying from the disease. It is however important to establish if cancer cells are present and whether they are localised to the prostate or have spread elsewhere in the body so all treatment options can be offered and explored for the patient to take action.

BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy) or enlargement of the prostate is the most common prostate disorder affecting males. Most men over the age of 50 will have some enlargement of the prostate and the signs and symptoms will vary greatly between individuals.  BPH shares many of the signs/symptoms of prostate cancer but does not cause prostate cancer. 

The signs/symptoms suggesting prostate dysfunction include urinary urgency, increased frequency (day and night), incomplete emptying of the bladder, urinary hesitancy, dribbling and erectile dysfunction. Medical diagnosis should be sought if any of these are present. Men are often wary of discussing these health concerns as it involves sensitive body parts and the possibility of physical examination.  The thought is always worse than the reality and most men are relieved to have had a thorough check up once it’s done. 

Risk factors for BPH and prostate cancer include age (>65yrs), family history, exposure to heavy metals such as cadmium, smoking, hormonal imbalance, a diet high in saturated fat,  and low levels of zinc and selenium have also been associated with increased risk of prostate dysfunction.

What you can do to improve prostate health and reduce risk factors:

Stop smoking. Cigarette smoking not only increases the risk of developing several other cancers, it exposes the body to cadmium which is carcinogenic to the prostate. Cadmium also interferes with the metabolism of zinc which is one of the most protective minerals for healthy prostate function.

Eat more zinc rich foods such as tahini (a nut paste made from crushed sesame seeds) , nuts and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) as they have a protective effect on the prostate and some studies show promising results for pepitas reducing the conversion of testosterone to an unhealthy version of testosterone which can promote unhealthy  prostate growth.

Lycopene is the substance found in tomatoes giving it the red colour. Studies are showing possible relationship between high levels of lycopene intake and reduced levels of prostate cancer. There is also some evidence suggesting the antioxidant properties of lycopene may prevent damage to DNA and reduce overgrowth of prostate cells. Cooked tomatoes and tomato products appear to have higher lycopene levels than raw.

High levels of unhealthy oestrogen metabolites are associated with increased risk of hormonally active cancers such as breast and prostate cancer. Eating more broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts can encourage the body to metabolise oestrogen down a more protective pathway.

Asian men have a much lower incidence of prostate cancer and their diet is low in saturated fat, high in fibre, high in essential fatty acids (fish) and fermented soy products (tofu, miso). It is considered that the fermented soy products exhibit weak oestrogenic activity which may have a protective effect against more toxic forms of oestrogen. 

Avoid high animal fat and processed food, and aim for more vegetarian meals with additional oily fish, flaxseed oil, nuts and avocado for high intake of essential fatty acids which can encourage the body to shift towards an anti inflammatory environment. A research group caused alarm in 2013 when it released a misleading statement about fish oil supplements increasing the risk of prostate cancer. When investigated further, these statements related to fish oil were made largely without merit. For example it couldn’t be determined if the participants had eaten fish or taken a supplement, fish oil intake was not measured before, during and after the study, and it may have simply been that those who knew they had prostate cancer were increasing their intake of fish oil as per thousands of studies providing evidence of it’s benefits. Additionally if their statement was true then prostate cancer would be rampant in high fish oil consumption cultures, but evidence very strongly shows the opposite.

Get 20mins of sunshine on your skin everyday to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. Low levels of this vitamin are associated with higher incidence of various cancers.

Naturopathic medicine has a lot to offer men in preventing disease as well as restorative diet and lifestyle plans to build the body’s vitality if disease is present.