Monday, March 10, 2008

Natural Prostate Cancer Therapies: Moderation Is Key

Is nutrition the best type of prostate cancer treatment?

Because prostate cancers are typically very slow to spread, natural prostate cancer therapies, particularly those based on diet, are more likely to be helpful than they are for most cancers. In this article I'll discuss some of the best known natural prostate cancer options (that unfortunately really don't work) as well as some natural prostate cancer treatment options that are just now beginning to show up in the literature (that apparently do). But I'll tell you now, the bottom line is that avoiding certain foods can be more important than adding others.

Research into the causes and risk factors in prostate cancer from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas just published in March 2008 reports that men who consume the highest amounts of saturated fat are the most likely to experience "biochemical failure" two to four years after prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate) for prostate cancer. In this context, biochemical failure means a return of PSAs to elevated levels, not necessarily a recurrence or spread of cancer.

Overweight men who have experienced any kind of prostate cancer treament are at greater risk of biochemical failure than men of normal weight. The M.D. Anderson researchers found that even overweight men can protect their health by avoiding:

  • Whole-milk dairy products (low-fat is OK), including cream, half-and-half, whole-milk ice cream and especially
  • Butter; also
  • Margarine,
  • Lard,
  • Any kind of dessert that sits around in a cellophane package, including cookes, cakes, candy bars, and muffins,
  • Deep-fried foods of all kinds,
  • Fatty meat, meat with drippings or au jus, gravies,
  • Bacon or any high-fat luncheon meat, and
  • Any kind of fat that is solid at room temperature, such as shortening.

This is only a partial list. Men who are overweight are more likely to remain in remission after prostatectomy if they avoid saturated fat, but that does not mean they can never eat anything they like. It's a matter of eating much less saturated fat, not no saturated fat at all. As a general rule, it's usually helpful, if you can't avoid all saturated fat at all times, to choose one serving of one saturated fat once a week or less, and to carefully avoid saturated fat the rest of the time.

In the Texas study, obese men on a low-saturated fat diet were twice as likely to stay in remission as men on their old, high-saturated fat diets at two and four years.

What about the "good" omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish, nuts, and some marine plants?

For omega-3 fatty acids, the indications are it takes a whole lot to do some good. In Japan, men who consume more than 120 g (more than 4 oz) of cold-water fish a day are demonstrably less likely to develop prostate cancer, but there's not any measurable benefit to prevention to eating less than 1 serving of fish a day (and that would not be deep-fried).

Moreover, the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are even less clear for men who have already been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Preventing the progression of prostate cancer seems to depend on keeping the right balance of omega-3 fatty acids (that prevent inflammation) and omega-6 fatty acids (that promote inflammation where the body needs it), rather than just getting more of one kind of fatty acid or another.

There doesn't seem to be any reason for men who have already been diagnosed with prostate cancer to avoid fish oils (up to 5 capsules a day) if they are getting other plant oils, typically from salad dressings or olive oil added to cooking (at least 1 tablespoon a day).

What about herbal therapies?

There's been a lot of preliminary work at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles on various plant extracts as ways to kill prostate cancer cells in the test tube. Cancer-killing effects have been found in the combination of extracts of:

  • Scutellaria (a species of the plant found in Siberia),
  • Licorice (a species of the plant found in Tibet, China, Mongolia, and southern Siberia),
  • Saw palmetto, and
  • A kind of chrysanthemum

When the extracts were used together but not when they were used separately. (These particular herbs are combined in the commercial product PC-SPES.) Similarly, tomato powder seems to be more effective against prostate cancer cells than the tomato chemical lycopene taken by itself.

Researchers at the Geffen School have also found prostate cancer-killing potency in cayenne pepper, and other researchers have looked into the use of I3C extracts from cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, watercress), rosemary, turmeric, oregano, coptis (Chinese goldthread), barberry, soy isoflavones, pomegranate extract pygeum, stinging nettle root, frankincense, green tea, raw tomatoes, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, and ketchup. And there are over 20 published laboratory studies of using saw palmetto extract to kill prostate cancer cells.

Here's the problem. Killing prostate cancer cells in a test tube is not the same thing as killing prostate cancer cells in the human body. Moreover, doctors are very hesitant to, at least to their way of thinking, make any patient a "guinea pig" for what they consider an untested therapy.

From time to time there are reports of men who try plant extracts on their own with some success.

On the message board Cancer Compass, for instance, there is a report of a man who writes that he had prostate cancer with a Gleason score of 6 (3, 3) and he went totally into remission after taking cayenne pepper.

He does not respond to inquiries as to how much cayenne pepper, and he does not mention whether he had surgery or not. Cayenne pepper does seem to kill prostate cancer cells in a test tube and could in the human body, but it would probably also cause some irritation to the prostate itself if there had not been surgery.

And the Battlestar Galactica actor Dirk Benedict (author of Confessions of a Kamikaze Cowboy) wrote a long autobiography of his recovery from prostate cancer after adopting a strict vegan diet.

So what are the natural prostate cancer therapies that really work for men who have already been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Here's the really simple list:

1. Avoid saturated fat.

2. Get omega-3 fatty acids from cold-water fish, nuts, olive oil, and/or supplements, but don't go overboard. And if you take a supplement, try a supplement formulated to contain both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in balance, such as Udo's oils or another brand your health products retailer can recommend.

3. Eat a variety of vegetables every day. Tomatoes seem to be especially helpful, but there's no need to go overboard on them, either.

And while natural products makers will push hard to get men with prostate cancer to buy their products, the fact is, more is known about natural prevention of prostate cancer than natural prostate cancer therapies. Buy with caution unless you can speak with a man who has used the therapy to go into remission himself.

You may also be interested in:

Pizza for Prostate Cancer Prevention?


Adams LS, Seeram NP, Hardy ML, Carpenter C, Heber D. Analysis of the interactions of botanical extract combinations against the viability of prostate cancer cell lines. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006 Mar;3(1):117-24.

Strom SS, Yamamura Y, Forman MR, Pettaway CA, Barrera SL, Digiovanni J. Saturated fat intake predicts biochemical failure after prostatectomy. 1: Int J Cancer. 2008 Mar 6 [Epub ahead of print].

Read about modified citrus pectin for fighting prostate cancer.

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