Gentlemen, mark your calendar for Men’s Health Week starting 14th June 2021. There will be loads of events and campaigns raising awareness for male-related health topics in the media so do keep an eye out. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer to affect men, after lung cancer. One in eight men in Ireland will develop prostate cancer during their lifetime. The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system producing a fluid component of semen that nourishes sperm. As men age, the prostate may become enlarged in a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a noncancerous condition. Prostate cancer also causes enlargement of the prostate. Both conditions share similar symptoms of frequent urge to urinate, difficulty when urinating and/or incomplete emptying of the bladder. While these conditions are quite rare in men under forty, they are increasing in those over 60 years. As with many cancers, the risk of incidence increases with age because we are exposed to cancer-causing factors over a longer period of time and our ability to naturally fend off risks may diminish with age through loss of vitality and health, poorer nutrition and less active lifestyles. Many cancers, including prostate may take years to manifest which is also reflected in the statistics relating to cancer risk and aging. While the statistics are alarming laid out in black and white, a colourful diet is a sure way to reduce your risk of prostate cancer and improve the outcomes and survival rates for those already diagnosed.
Nature vs Nurture for Prostate Cancer Risk
The World Cancer Research Fund Continuous Update Project (CUP) has revised 2018 findings on diet, nutrition, physical activity and Prostate Cancer. The CUP reported that there is now strong evidence that obesity and height (being tall) are significant factors associated with risk of advanced Prostate cancer. They also reported evidence that higher consumption of dairy products, diets high in calcium, low plasma alpha-tocopherol concentration (vitamin E) and low plasma selenium concentration may increase prostate cancer risk. Unless you were stretched on a rack as a kid, being tall is mainly down to genetics – however, all the other significant factors mentioned in the report are directly associated with the diet and lifestyle choices you make every day.
Protecting yourself with Colour and Plant-Based Foods
Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant responsible for the red pigment of tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon, is a crucial ingredient to reduce prostate cancer risk. It is thought that lycopene targets specific free radicals associated with DNA damage to prostate cells which can instigate the onset of prostate cancer. Tomato products such as passata and bottled tomato juice are also a rich source of lycopene, offering us year-round protection when fresh produce is out of season. Alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) and selenium mentioned in the CUP report, work in a similar way and are very specific to prostate cells.
Pomegranate seeds also provide important antioxidants such as polyphenols, ellagic acid and anthocyanins. Like lycopene, these antioxidants protect the prostate cells from free radical damage caused by metabolic activity and environmental toxins. Anthocyanins may also reduce the risk of urinary and bladder infections associated with enlarged prostate. Pomegranate seeds have the added benefit of inhibiting oestrogen production, which is a possible cause of BPH in older men.
Cruciferous vegetables are top defenders when it comes to prostate cancer. Sulfuronane in these vegetables acts as a potent anticancer agent and is particularly beneficial in hormone sensitive prostate cancer. Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale can be easily incorporated into the diet – just don’t boil them to a mush! Steaming or simmering in a little water will help to ensure your prostate gets the best from these veggies.
Soybeans, although controversial, are worth a mention. Populations with higher than average intakes of soybeans tend to have lower incidence of both prostate and oestrogen-sensitive breast cancer. This is attributed to phytoestrogens which offer protection from the harmful, growth promoting effects of oestrogen on these cancer cells. Other legumes and lentils also provide this kind of protection and fibre, which helps eliminate excess oestrogen from the body. These populations also enjoy a diet rich in fresh vegetables, eat very little meat and no dairy – all of which are relevant to both breast and prostate cancer. It is unclear if the protective nature of these diets is due to soybean intake but more likely due to a healthier approach to eating and the increased consumption of plant-based foods.
Modern Diets Increase Prostate Cancer Risk
A moderate intake of protein from oily fish, nuts and seeds will provide healthy fats which reduce risk of prostate cancer. Monounsaturated oils from olives, pumpkin seeds and avocado (rich in vitamin E) are protective, while the heated, treated oils such as corn, rapeseed and vegetable oils increase risk. Fried foods, trans fats, red meat, sugar, dairy and high calcium intakes are also associated with increased risk of prostate cancer which may explain the rising rates among the Irish men! Extracts from Saw Palmetto and Pumpkin seed, available as supplements may be included in a prostate-friendly diet but do seek good advice on these supplements. Selenium, Zinc, B vitamins and folate can be added to the manly list and are readily available in foods such as brazil nuts, wholegrains, fish and pumpkin seeds and topped up if needed in supplement form.
So, there you have it, gentlemen! Enjoy Father’s Day and Men’s Health Week - the kitchen is officially all yours!