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From Saw Palmetto to Nutrition for Prostate Cancer: What Does the Science Say Today?

September 7, 2010

Saw palmetto, an extract from the berries of the dwarf palm tree, is an herb that has a long history of use as a remedy for treating the symptoms, and possibly curing, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a non-cancerous swelling in the prostate gland usually found in older men, characterized by an increase in inflammation. Taking saw palmetto is believed to reduce inflammation in the prostate and urethra, which minimizes the “dribbling” that commonly happens to men with BPH or prostate cancer.

A dose of saw palmetto at 320mg per day has been shown to be safe, but the efficacy of saw palmetto was questioned following publication published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 354, pp. 557-566) that reported no difference between the herbal remedy and the placebo. However, the results were described as “puzzling” by industry experts since they contradict the conclusions of previous studies, including a meta-analysis of 18 clinical trials (JAMA Vol. 280, pp. 1604-1609) and 21 clinical trials (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002 Iss. 3) that reported positive results for easing the mild-to-moderate symptoms. Thus, the research concludes that saw palmetto may help those with a family history of prostate cancer, but a man should not necessarily totally depend on it.

As of now, the best science can do is speculate at the nutrition data. Most of the data draws correlations and makes suggestions for what may or may not be an effective nutritional strategy for men with BPH or those wanting to prevent prostate cancer. In men with BPH or prostate cancer, research shows that there is an increase in inflammation within the prostate gland and damaged surrounding tissue, caused by oxidation. Therefore, nutritionists suggest men should eat foods that will naturally decrease inflammation and provide various anti-oxidants.

Research suggests men should eat:
•    tomato-based products for the antioxidant lycopene.
•    coffee, green and black tea, and pomegranate juice (without added sugar) for the antioxidant-containing polyphenols.
•    raw or steamed cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, wasabi mustard and horseradish that may induce protective proteins in the liver.
•    supplementation of vitamins K, D, E, zinc, seem to be correlated with a lower incidence of prostate cancer.
•    lignans from flaxseeds to prevent the spread of cancer cells.
•    wild, dark fish, such as salmon at least one-to-three times per week for the omega-3’s anti-inflammatory abilities.

Meanwhile, men should avoid foods that promote inflammation and oxidation. Foods that should be avoided are:
•    overcooked or fried meat of all types
•    charbroiled chicken with intact skin and charbroiled red meat
•    excessive simple sugar, including high-fructose corn syrup, found primarily in processed foods

In conclusion, nutrition to prevent prostate cancer will also prevent a number of other diseases and improve overall health. Perhaps saw palmetto and other supplements are beneficial, however, the science is inconsistent. They are certainly worth trying and they may be a great adjunct in the overall nutrition plan. Natural foods, especially cruciferous vegetables, minimally cooked, low in sugar and devoid of high-temperatures, offer the most benefits.


This entry was posted in Nutrition.

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