What do pizza and pumpkin pie have in common? They contain nutrients that, in supplement form, could help maintain prostate health—probably the last thing eaters think of while chowing down! Here, we cover how important supplements like lycopene and saw palmetto could help protect prostate health.
BPH and its Five Challengers
Prostate health is overlooked by many men. This walnut-sized organ is located below the bladder and in front of the rectum. Urine forms in the kidneys, passes to the bladder, and exits the body through the urethra, which runs through the middle of the prostate. When the prostate enlarges, urine flow is interrupted, causing frequent urination along with difficulty and pain. When benign, the condition is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) (1). BPH is common, and ultimately afflicts one in six men.
Unfortunately, when not benign, an enlarged prostate gland could be indicative of prostate cancer, which is second only to lung cancer as the leading cancer-killer of men. Prostate cancer affects more than nine million men around the world. Just about every man over 50 will suffer from either prostate cancer or BPH, either chronically or periodically. Though neither are completely curable, certain supplements can lessen symptoms of BPH and maintain prostate health (2).
The cause of BPH is unknown, though many researchers found testosterone and one of its metabolites, dihydrotestosterone, have a hand in its development. Saw palmetto may benefit those with frequent urination caused by BPH. Sterols found in the saw palmetto berries interfere with hormones like testosterone that cause the prostate cells to grow. Saw palmetto also has some historic use, too. Native Americans ate these berries believing they serve as a tonic that nourishes the body, promotes weight gain, stimulates appetite and treat urinary tract and genital problems. In addition, this helpful berry also increases the male sex drive (3).
There is no standard dosage for this supplement, and it can be taken in many forms, including capsules, tablets and even tea. A 2002 published review looked at 21 saw palmetto clinical studies occurring over the last 30 years involving more than 3,000 patients. It found that the supplement provided mild to moderate improvement in symptoms of BPH (3).
The next familiar name in the fight for prostate health is lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. It is responsible for producing their yellow, red and orange colors. People who have a diet rich in tomatoes appear to have a lower risk of certain types of cancer, including prostate. Lycopene works as a deterrent of symptoms because it is a powerful antioxidant that blocks the action of free radicals that can damage cells.
Studies found that lycopene levels in the blood were higher after people ate cooked tomatoes, rather than after ingesting raw tomatoes or tomato juice (4). According to the American Cancer Society, studies on lycopene in supplement form produced positive results. One study on mice found that lycopene reduced the growth of brain tumors, and another found that it suppressed growth of breast tumors. A third study assigned men at a higher risk for prostate cancer to take a multivitamin with or without a lycopene supplement. Unfortunately, this study found no difference in prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels between the two. High PSA levels are correlated with prostate cancer. But, a controlled study found that men who were given lycopene supplements appeared to have slowed the growth of prostate cancer cells (4).
Another friend of healthy prostates is pygeum, which is used to treat urinary tract disorders, including BPH. It contains three different compounds: phytosterols, triterpenes and ferulic acid. Triterpenes and phytosterols are anti-inflammatory agents, while ferulic acid can reduce cholesterol in the prostate. Lowering cholesterol levels may also reduce the levels of testosterone and DHT, simply because cholesterol helps produce these hormones. A European study conducted in 1990 on pygeum as a treatment for BPH produced some impressive results. Through a 60-day double-blind clinical study, researchers found that subjects who took pygeum experienced a 50% improvement in urinary function compared to those who took the placebo (5).
Retailers should also point out the importance of products that contain zinc, including mussels and pumpkinseed oil. Zinc is an essential mineral for men, since it is highly concentrated in the prostate gland. Zinc helps with reproductive health and balance in the transportation of sex hormones. Zinc deficiency is directly linked to a higher risk of cancer; a lack of zinc can also lead to DNA damage and chromosome breaks. Many recent studies show that zinc helps reduce BPH, helping to control initial swelling in the prostate, but doesn’t stop prostate cancer. Like many other vitamins and minerals, zinc levels in the body can be immensely depleted when a person is under stress. The recommended dosage of zinc in an adult should be between 15 mg and 40 mg a day, but a higher dosage is recommended for people undergoing high levels of stress. Zinc is said to be connected with a person’s hormonal metabolism (6).
Pumpkinseed oil is not only beneficial because it contains zinc, but also because it is high in amino acids such as alanine, glycine and glutamic acid, which studies have shown also help increase urine flow. Scientists have said pumpkinseed oil capsules help with BPH because delta-7-sterine is the active ingredient. This steroid, along with dihydrotestosterone, interferes with the receptors in the prostate. Green-lipped mussels are beneficial to prostate health because they contain a combination of zinc and omega-3 oils. These little creatures are found in New Zealand, and have a combination of fatty acids that assist in both prostate health and joint support (7).
Keep Consumers Grounded
Many consumers might be impressed by the positive effects these supplements have on their symptoms, but they must remember that supplements won’t cure prostate cancer or BPH, and most of these ingredients have studies producing conflicting results. Men should always talk to a doctor before adding a new supplement to their regimen. As long as you keep your customers both optimistic and educated, there should be no problem in pushing products rich in these prostate crime fighters. WF
1. M. Schachter, “Alternative Approaches to Prostate Cancer,” www.healthy.net/Health/Article/Alternative_Approaches_to_Prostate_Cancer/544, accessed April 18, 2012.
2. A. Katz, Dr. Katz’s Guide to Prostate Health: From Conventional to Holistic Therapies (Freedom Press, Topanga, CA, 2006).
3. American Cancer Society, “Saw Palmetto,” www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/HerbsVitaminsandMinerals/saw-palmetto, accessed April 18, 2012.
4. American Cancer Society, “Lycopene,” www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/DietandNutrition/lycopene, accessed April 18, 2012.
5. J. Marie, “Pygeum Benefits for the Prostate,” www.livestrong.com/article/381209-pygeum-benefits-for-the-prostate, accessed April 18, 2012.
6. B. Richards, “Prostate Cancer and Zinc- Can Zinc be Overdone?” www.wellnessresources.com/health/articles/prostate_cancer_and_zinc_can_zinc_be_overdone, accessed April 18, 2012.
7. “The Second Heart of the Man,” www.naturalelixir.com/prostate.html, accessed April 18, 2012.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2012