While prostate problems are becoming increasingly high-profile (Bob Dole and General Norman Schwarzkopf have had prostate operations), the most widely used treatment options are invasive and can be dangerous. These methods, such as long-term prescriptions of toxic drugs, radiation, and radical surgery, can cause side effects such as decreased blood pressure, decreased sex drive, and impotence.
William R. Fair, M.D., chief of urology at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center in New York questions the way most conventional doctors attack prostate cancer with drugs and surgery alone. “We physicians do a good job in treating prostate cancer but not as good a job in treating patients,” he says.
“The fact of the matter is that for most common illnesses, including prostate disorders, there is greater support in the medical literature for a natural approach than there is for drugs or surgery,” explains Michael Murray, N.D., author of Natural Alternatives to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Drugs (William Morrow, 1994).
Indeed, natural approaches to prostate disorders take a wholly different perspective. Although some remedies do alleviate symptoms, the major thrust is prevention. Here, we have compiled some of the best tips natural medicine has to offer for the prevention and treatment of BPH, prostatitis, and prostate cancer.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) and Prostatitis
In treating these two prostate conditions, Glenn Rothfeld, M. D., the founder and medical director of Spectrum Medical Arts, an integrated health clinic in Arlington, Massachusetts, has had considerable success with his patients using the following four-step method.
1. LESSEN CONGESTION IN THE LOWER PELVIC AREA by improving the blood and energy flow to the prostate region. Chronic conditions like constipation, low back pain, scar tissue, and injury can all affect this flow. Appropriate dietary changes (increase your fiber and water intake), massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture can improve the blood flow to the entire pelvic region.
2. EAT A PROSTATE-HEALTHY DIET. Soy products may help prevent prostate enlargement (BPH) because soy contains natural isoflavones that help detoxify harmful DHT (dihydrotestosterone), the male hormone metabolite linked with excessive prostate tissue growth. This may explain why Asian men, who eat a diet high in soy, have a lower incidence of prostate problems, Rothfeld says. In fact, some studies have found that American men have a 120-fold greater incidence of prostate cancer than their Chinese counterparts. Finally, Rothfeld has found that sunflower and pumpkin seeds also have a positive effect on symptoms for both BPH and prostatitis.
3. SUPPLEMENT WITH NUTRIENTS THAT AID IN PROSTATE FUNCTION. Zinc, found in rich amounts in nuts and seeds is required to utilize carotenes and, therefore, may aid in preventing cancer. In support of zinc, Murray notes a study done in 1976 by Fahim, Fahim, Der, and Harman that reached this conclusion: “Zinc supplementation has been shown to reduce the size of the prostate…and to reduce symptoms in the majority of patients.” Also, in conjunction with Vitamin [B.sub.6], zinc regulates the enzyme that converts testosterone to harmful DHT.
Essential fatty acids also help maintain normal prostate function. These fatty acids are converted in the body to the messenger hormone precursors that control inflammation, among other functions. Vitamin E helps preserve these fatty acids.
Rothfeld’s ideal daily supplement program for prostate function includes:
* Zinc (chelated 50 to 75 mg or picolinate 30 to 60 ma)
* Vitamin E at 80 IU
* Two tablespoons of liquid flaxseed oil or one teaspoon of cod liver oil
* 50 mg of B complex
* Vitamin A/beta-carotene (10,000 to 15,000 IU of each)
* 500 mg each of selenium, evening primrose oil, and the amino acids glutamine, alanine, and lysine (divide dosage to take between meals).
4. CHECK OUT THESE HERBS. Saw palmetto berries (Serenoa repens) come from a common tree grown in the southeastern United States and contain substances that actively inhibit the formation of DHT from testosterone (by inhibiting the enzyme, 5-alpha-reductase, which converts it). It also cools inflammation in the gland itself.
Studies show saw palmetto to be remarkably safe, and meta-analyses comparing the saw palmetto extract with Proscar (the much-prescribed BPH drug) show the former to more effective in reducing prostate symptoms. Murray writes that “numerous studies on the saw palmetto extract have shown it to be effective in nearly 90 percent of patients usually in a period of four to six weeks. In contrast, Proscar is effective in reducing the symptoms in less than 37 percent after taking the drug for one year.”
In order for saw palmetto to be effective, it must be in an extract form because the active ingredients are fat-soluble and a tea made from the berries would not make these components usable, Rothfeld explains. The effective dose of extracts is 320 mg a day, divided into two equal doses.
Pygeum africanum (the bark of an African evergreen) is another herb beneficial for the prostate. In several double-blind studies, a fat-soluble extract of this herb improved prostate symptoms significantly without many side effects (stomach irritation was the most common). In fact, in one study, sexual ability was increased as well.
The herb seems to work, again, by limiting the formation of DHT, says Rothfeld. It is also a mild antibiotic, which may explain its positive effect in prostatitis as well as BPH. A usual dose is 50 to 100 mg twice daily, as an extract. Several studies have shown that the two herbs (saw palmetto and Pygeum africanum) work well together.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men in the United States. Despite its near epidemic proportions, scientists are at a loss for the cause of this deadly cancer. One thing is clear, your diet plays an immense role in whether you fall prey to this disease: Certain foods can help protect you from the disease, whereas other dietary elements, such as animal fat, can put you at great risk.
One Harvard University study found that “those who consumed the most red meat–beef, pork, lamb, processed meat, bacon, and hot dogs–had the highest risk of ending up with an advanced or fatal case of prostate cancer.” Indeed, urologist Fair has found in his research that a low-fat diet, one that contains less than 20 percent fat, can slow the progression of the disease. He explains, “We know a low-fat diet won’t cure prostate cancer, but we’re hoping to slow the growth of it. The hope in the future is that we can control and slow the progression of the disease–like we do with arthritis or diabetes.”
To reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer, follow these dietary guidelines:
* Cut beck your fat intake–and be wary of meat.
* Eat plenty of red-orange fruits and vegetables. These contain carotenes, antioxidant plant pigments.
* Increase your intake of lycopene. Found in tomatoes, this antioxidant was linked in a Harvard Medical School study to a reduced risk of prostate cancer. The men who consumed more than ten servings a week of tomato-based foods enjoyed a 45 percent reduction in risk.
* Cut out the chemicals and eat organically. “Dozens of toxins in the form of chemical cancer stimulants found in pesticides, unfiltered water, and nonorganic processed foods could be accumulating in the body’s fatty tissues and play a part in cancer, particularly in hormone-sensitive tissues like the prostate,” says Woodson Merrell, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Xenoestrogens, like DDT and dioxin, can bond with estrogen receptors and never leave your body.”
Finally, most health professionals agree that early detection of prostate cancer through a blood test known as the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) is crucial. Last year, early detection resulted in nearly 60 percent of diagnosed cases being localized and treatable.