Thousands of men across the UK are sprouting moustaches this month, in aid of Movember, an annual event aimed at raising awareness of men’s health issues.
Men are less likely to visit their GP when ill, less likely to access disease screening services and less likely to seek support with healthy-living initiatives such as stop smoking schemes. Consequently, serious diseases such as cancer and diabetes tend to be diagnosed later in men than in women. This is why raising awareness and encouraging a dialogue about men’s health issues is particularly important.
Prostate cancer is a particular focus for the Movember campaign because this disease can be difficult to spot in its early stages. In addition, one in eight men in the UK will develop prostate cancer, making this the most common type of cancer in men.
The prostate, found only in men, is located below the bladder. Its function is to produce fluid to nourish and protect semen. The prostate often enlarges as men get older, causing troublesome symptoms for some men.
Symptoms of all prostate problems include:
- needing to urinate often, especially at night
- difficulty starting to urinate
- straining to urinate or taking a long time to finish
- pain when urinating or during sex
There is plenty of research suggesting that dietary changes help reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer.
Studies have found that men with a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids in their body had a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Omega-3 is present in oily fish and in smaller amounts in flaxseed and some plant foods. One study of more than 6000 men found that men who regularly ate oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel had a reduced risk of developing this condition. The men who ate no fish were more than twice as likely to develop prostate cancer as those who ate moderate to high amounts. For those who do not eat oily fish regularly, it may be prudent to supplement with a good quality fish oil supplement.
High dairy consumption is linked to an increase risk of prostate cancer as evidenced by a number of studies in this area. One study found that men who consume two and a half serving of dairy each day have a 40 per cent increase in prostate cancer risk (2). This is probably because eating diary raises levels of Insulin like Growth-like Growth Factor which can promote growth of cancer cells. A recent meta analysis reports that soya consumption, on the other hand, is linked with a reduced risk of prostate cancer (3), and so replacing cow’s milk with soya milk is likely to be a helpful measure.
Cancer is known to be triggered by damaging molecules known as free radicals. Antioxidants ‘mop up’ these free radicals and so it seems sensible to ensure that the diet is abundant in rich sources of these nutrients. Men who eat four servings of vegetables a day have a 35 per cent reduced risk of prostate cancer compared to those who eat just two servings. In addition, vegetarian men have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer than meat eaters.
Two supplements that have been widely studied in relation to prostate cancer risk are selenium and saw palmetto. Selenium has antioxidant properties and aids DNA repair, and a recent meta-analysis showed a potential inverse association between toenail, serum, and plasma selenium levels and prostate cancer risk (4). Selenium is present in most multi-vitamin and mineral supplements. Alternatively, just two Brazil nuts each day will fulfil your daily requirement of this mineral.
Saw palmetto is often used for its protective benefits. This nutrient is anti-inflammatory and also helps to prevent the conversion of testosterone to DHT, an agent that promotes prostate cancer (5). Large studies have found saw palmetto supplementation to be beneficial in benign prostatic hyperplasia (BHP) or non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate (6). While more research need to be done in this area, saw palmetto appears to be safe to supplement and has no known drug interactions, making it a worthy of consideration in supporting prostate health.
1. P Terry et al, Fatty fish consumption and risk of prostate cancer, The Lancet (2001), vol 357 (9270), pp 1764-1766
2. Chan JM, Stampfer MJ, Ma J, Ajani U, Gaziano JM, Giovannucci E. Dairy products, calcium, and prostate cancer risk in the Physicians’ Health Study. Presentation, American Association for Cancer Research, San Francisco, April 2000.
3. Hwang YW, Kim SY, Jee SH, et al.: Soy food consumption and risk of prostate cancer: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Nutr Cancer 61 (5): 598-606, 2009
4. Brinkman M, Reulen RC, Kellen E, Buntinx F, Zeegers MP. Are men with low selenium levels at increased risk of prostate cancer? Eur J Cancer 2006;42:2463-71.
5. W H Goldmann et al, ‘Saw palmetto berry extract inhibits cell growth and Cox-2 expression in prostatic cancer cells’, Cell Biology International (2001), vol 25(11), pp 1117-24.
6. Wilt TJ, Ishani A, Rutks I, MacDonald R. Phytotherapy for benign prostatic hyperplasia. Public Health Nutr. 2000 Dec;3(4A):459-72.