A man has one chance in five of developing prostate cancer in his lifetime. Prostate cancer is the second-most-common form of cancer in men (behind skin cancer), according to the American Cancer Society. Men most at risk are over the age of 50, African American, or those with a family history (father, brother) of prostate cancer.
A blood test called a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) is commonly used to identify problems with the prostate — a walnut-sized gland that is part of the male reproductive system. High levels of PSA mean the prostate may be inflamed, infected or enlarged. It may or may not indicate prostate cancer: Further tests — such as a biopsy — are required for a diagnosis.
How nutrition affects a man’s risk for prostate cancer is still unclear, say experts. Yet several nutrition interventions show promise in helping to prevent and treat this form of cancer. Some evidence suggests, for example, that a vegetarian diet may exert some protection against prostate cancer.
Part of that benefit might be from lycopene — a reddish pigment that gives color to fruit and vegetables like tomatoes, apricots, guavas, and watermelons. Lycopene has been shown to help lower PSA levels and lower the risk for developing prostate cancer.
Besides lycopene found naturally in food, some studies have shown a benefit from the use of lycopene supplements; others have not. Remember, though, when we eat foods high in lycopene — those with red-colored flesh — we also get a host of other nutrients that work together to fight against cancer.
By the way, lycopene from food cooked with a little fat is better absorbed into the body than raw foods eaten without fat. Tomatoes cooked in olive oil, for example, release more lycopene into the body than do raw tomatoes.
Vitamin D is another newsworthy nutrient in the fight against prostate cancer. This hormonelike vitamin may have a protective effect on the cells of the prostate gland, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Although we still don’t know if taking vitamin D supplements or getting more natural vitamin D from the sun will prevent prostate cancer, it has been observed that men diagnosed with prostate cancer often have low blood levels of vitamin D.
Some studies have found that men with prostate cancer who were treated with vitamin D experience lower PSA levels in their blood. Other studies have not shown the same benefit. Still, one review article concluded that “vitamin D-based therapies for prostate cancer may soon be medical practice.”
Caution: Vitamin D can be toxic when taken in doses higher than 10,000 IU (International Units) per day over a period of many years, says the NCI. Always check with your medical provider before starting any type of nutrition therapy.