& Joannie Dobbs Monday,
Healthy habits help protect the prostate
THE PSA blood test is often touted as the gold standard in screening men for prostate cancer. But earlier this year, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that 15 percent of men with "normal" PSA blood values (less than 4 nanograms per milliliter) actually had significantly advanced prostate cancer when they were evaluated using more sensitive biopsy testing. Still, the PSA test is very valuable in diagnosing prostate cancer in many men at an early and still treatable stage.
The best message here is to acknowledge that few things in life have 100 percent reliability, so even men with low PSA values should do what they can to lower their risks. Researchers are steadily uncovering factors that can reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer. Fortunately, many of the same things that benefit other aspects of health also help maintain prostate health.
Question: Can foods and nutrients benefit prostate health?
Answer: Quite a number of prostate-friendly foods and food components are being identified. A number of studies point to the importance of foods high in antioxidants, especially vitamin E and the mineral selenium.
Good sources of vitamin E include nuts and seeds, spinach, fortified breakfast cereals and sunflower, safflower and canola oils. For those taking vitamin E supplements, it is best that the dosage not exceed 400 IU per day. Those taking blood-thinner drugs should not take vitamin E supplements without a physician's supervision.
Foods high in selenium include nuts (especially brazil nuts), fish, whole grains and lean red meats. Just one brazil nut provides 150 percent of a man's recommended daily allowance of 55 micrograms. Because selenium can be toxic, total intake should not exceed 400 micrograms per day.
Adequate vitamin D, from moderate sun exposure or from diet, also might help. And phytoestrogens from soy foods might work in conjunction with vitamin D to further reduce risk.
Other recommended foods include grapes, peanuts and green tea.
Q: Can foods or nutrients increase risks?
A: Excessively high calcium intake from supplements or foods might increase risk, although remaining within commonly recommended calcium levels should not be a problem.
High intake of an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid is associated with increased risk of prostate cancer as well as retinal macular degeneration. Flax oil, therefore, should be used in moderation.
Q: What herbs are used for prostate health?
A: Standardized extracts of saw palmetto might benefit the prostate gland, but saw palmetto can compound effects of blood-thinner drugs, including aspirin, and should be used with medical supervision.
Q: Can exercise help?
A: Regular exercise appears to be the most important factor in promoting prostate health. How and why remains a matter of further study.
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.
Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Service
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