Nutrition for prostate health: Vegetables, vitamin D may help lower men’s cancer risk – Monterey County Herald

If you’re a man, you have a one chance in five of developing prostate cancer in your lifetime. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer in men, behind skin cancer.

Men are more likely to develop prostate cancer after the age of 50. Those of African-American descent or with a family history of this disease — meaning a father, brother or son with prostate cancer — are also at higher risk.

Although its usefulness has been questioned by some health experts, 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 enlarged, inflamed, or infected. It may or may not indicate prostate cancer until further tests, such as a biopsy, are performed.

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. Higher intakes of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale have been associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. These plants contain substances that in the laboratory can block the formation of cancer cells as well as slow the progression of cancer growth.

Human studies on the value of cruciferous vegetables in the fight against prostate cancer have not been as clear, however. One reason, says the AICR, has to do with the interaction of our individual genes with substances in our diet. For example, only about half the population carries the gene that helps the body use the protective compounds contained in cruciferous vegetables.

Lycopene — a reddish pigment that gives color to fruit and vegetables like tomatoes, apricots, guavas, and watermelons may also be helpful in the prevention of prostate cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Lycopene’s effectiveness for the treatment of existing prostate cancers is still unclear, however.

Besides lycopene found naturally in food, some studies have shown a benefit from the use of lycopene supplements; others have not. Scientists now believe that the synergy between the nutrients and other substances in plant-based foods is a more powerful cancer fighter than isolated substances in dietary supplements.

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 raw tomatoes.

Vitamin D is another newsworthy nutrient in the fight against prostate cancer. This hormone-like vitamin may have a protective effect on the cells of the prostate gland, according to the 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, some researchers have stated that the use of vitamin D for the treatment of prostate cancer may someday be part of 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.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes educator and author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating.” Email her at


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