Toward Better Prostate Health
Prostate issues are some of the biggest health concerns for men today. In 2013, nearly 240,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 30,000 will die. And other prostate problems can’t be ignored: benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) and prostatitis (prostate inflammation) result in pain, discomfort, and inconvenience, impacting quality of life.
But there is good news. A number of integrative solutions can support prostate health, identify and reduce prostate cancer risks, and even fight aggressive cancer. More importantly, lifestyle factors—including diet, exercise, and stress relief—can reduce risks of prostate cancer and support prostate and overall health.
It’s not just cancer that affects the prostate. BPH, prostatitis, and other prostate issues are increasingly common. Symptoms like pain in the groin area and difficult or frequent urination often overlap, so getting the right diagnosis is critical. Some of the tests outlined below can help clarify these issues. BPH and prostatitis don’t necessarily indicate cancer, but they can increase the risks by promoting inflammation, abnormal cellular growth, and other factors.
For years men over 45 were encouraged to get a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test regularly to screen for prostate cancer. High PSA levels were once thought to indicate prostate cancer, but large scale studies now suggest that the PSA test isn’t the gold standard detection method we once thought it was.
The PSA test fails to differentiate between aggressive and non-aggressive tumors. This is an important distinction, because many slow-growing prostate cancers might give a high PSA reading even though they aren’t high-risk tumors. But based on an elevated PSA result, patients often undergo invasive procedures (such as biopsy) that disturb the surrounding tissue, possibly transforming a nonaggressive tumor into a fast growing, more aggressive one. Furthermore, the PSA test often doesn’t detect aggressive tumors early enough.
This doesn’t mean that PSA is useless. It simply means we need to look at elevated PSA levels in context. Together with additional information from other tests, we can determine the best approach for each person. Other tests can help.
The prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP) test indicates greater risk of metastatic prostate cancer. Hormone tests such as testosterone, DHT, estrogen, progesterone, and DHEA-S can aid in the diagnostic process and help us better understand the issue. Other important markers such as CEA (carcinoembrionic antigen), IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), prolactin, and galectin-3 can indicate aggressive cancer that the PSA test may have missed. Another very useful test is the PCA-3 test. Done by a qualified physician, it measures the level of PCA-3 in the urine, which is much more specific to prostate cancer.
Maximum diagnosis, minimum intervention
A key principle in my approach to prostate health is “maximum diagnosis, minimum intervention.” That means we gather as much information as possible to assess a patient’s prostate health, and then start with the least invasive approaches. From an integrative standpoint, this means adopting habits that reduce prostate risks. While there is no such thing as 100 percent prevention, certain foods, supplements, and lifestyle factors can strengthen defenses against prostate problems, including cancer. This proactive approach is different than the passive “watch and wait” protocol because it empowers patients to take control of their prostate issues with solutions that also support overall health.
The first step toward preventing and treating prostate cancer is to control diet. Avoid the “Standard American Diet” high in unhealthy fats, sugars, and processed ingredients that promote inflammation, damage DNA, and fuel numerous diseases. Instead, emphasize lean and plant-based proteins, whole grains, and organic fruits and vegetables.
A number of studies have linked high-fat diets to cancer progression. On the other hand, a study published in Integrative Cancer Therapies showed that men with recurrent prostate cancer could lower their PSA levels by switching to a plant-based diet.
I particularly recommend following a low glycemic diet of nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory foods that don’t spike blood sugar, such as low-starch vegetables, plant protein, and lots of fiber. Emphasize cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and cabbage, which have high levels of the phytonutrients associated with prostate cancer prevention. Cruciferous vegetables also detoxify cancer-causing compounds from the body and help metabolize hormones.
The relationship between stress and cancer growth is well supported by research. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found a direct link between chronic stress and prostate cancer progression.
There are a variety of non-pharmaceutical ways to alleviate stress, such as yoga, t’ai chi, and meditation. These mind-body practices have the added advantage of also improving immunity, reducing inflammation, and increasing overall health. One recent study showed that yoga practice improves immune cell function at the genetic level. Meditation is also shown to improve quality of life in patients with prostate and other cancers.
Exercise in general is essential for reducing risks of prostate cancer. Numerous studies have compared activity levels with prostate cancer risk and found a direct link to lowered risk. In addition to reducing stress, regular exercise helps balance hormones, enhances immunity, and boosts vital energy, all critical for supporting prostate health and fighting prostate cancer.
A supplement program for prostate cancer or other prostate issues should emphasize ingredients that promote prostate cellular health, reduce inflammation, detoxify the body, balance hormones, and provide antioxidant support. Such a program can address prostate issues from multiple angles while supporting the overall health of the patient, a key strategy in integrative medicine.
Some of my top recommendations for prostate health are medicinal mushrooms, which offer remarkable benefits on multiple levels. Medicinal mushrooms optimize immune function, control inflammation, and provide antioxidant support. They also detoxify the body. But most importantly, mushrooms have been specifically shown to fight cancer, including prostate cancer. Top varieties include Phellinus linteus, Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), and Coriolus (Trametes versicolor). I recommend mushrooms that are botanically enhanced using a unique cultivation method to grow the mushrooms on a blend of immune-supporting herbs.
Another important supplement for prostate health is selenium. More evidence supports the link between high selenium levels in the blood and increased protection against a variety of prostate issues, including cancer. A recent study by the American Association for Cancer Research showed that men who had higher selenium levels had lower risks of prostate cancer.
Quercetin, part of the flavonoid family, is a powerful antioxidant found in fruits, vegetables, tea, and even red wine—apples are an excellent source of it. A number of studies have shown that quercetin inhibits cancer cell growth in different types of cancer, including prostate. There is also research showing quercetin can help with prostatitis, perhaps due to its immune-supporting, anti-inflammatory benefits.
A recent clinical study presented at the 2013 American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting showed that a combination of pomegranate, green tea, broccoli, and turmeric spice slowed the rise of PSA in men with prostate cancer.
The data are impressive: Numerous supplements have been shown to support prostate health. In my practice I recommend a comprehensive formula called ProstaCaid which includes ingredients mentioned previously along with other important herbs and nutrients. Three published studies on ProstaCaid demonstrate its broad support for prostate health. In addition to keeping prostate cells healthy, the formula works on a genetic level, promoting the activity of genes specific to prostate health.
From my clinical experience, prostate health is not something to seek out only when symptoms arise—it should be a way of life. And smart choices such as packing a nutritious lunch, following a targeted supplement plan, taking a long walk, or enjoying more time with friends and family, don’t just support prostate health. These small decisions have a cumulative impact on overall well-being.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist, physician, and homeopath, has a MS in traditional Chinese medicine, and has done graduate studies in herbology. Visit him online at dreliaz.org.