Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men (next to skin cancer), so it’s no surprise that an increasing number of men are worried about this serious condition. But a new study published in the medical journal Cancer Epidemiology brings some good news for sufferers of the disease and those trying to prevent it.
Researchers assessed men suffering from prostate cancer in South Carolina who had already undergone surgery or radiation to treat the disease but still had a recurrence of prostate cancer. Because approximately 25 to 40 percent of men who receive these treatments still experience a recurrence in prostate cancer, the researchers attempted to determine whether specific nutrients might help.
The scientists assessed levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA)—a common blood test that is used to screen for prostate cancer. High PSA levels are often an indicator for the disease. This test is used to assess for prostate cancer in men with no symptoms or in those with symptoms of the disease, which can include: slow or weak urination, needing to urinate frequently (especially at night), blood in the urine, erectile dysfunction, pain in the hips or back, weakness or numbness of the legs or feet, or loss of bladder control. Healthy men typically have PSA counts that are lower than 4 nanograms/liter of blood. A higher number is frequently associated with an increased cancer risk.
Researchers found a link between higher blood levels of certain nutrients and decreased PSA levels in the men, indicating that diets higher in these nutrients may reduce the risk of prostate cancer and even help reverse cancer in men suffering from the disease, like those men who participated in the study. Both carotenoids and tocopherols were higher in men with lower PSA levels.
Carotenoids are a group of yellow-orange-red pigments known as phytonutrients (plant nutrients) found in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, mangoes, pumpkin, tomatoes, papaya, peaches, squash and other similarly-colored foods. They include: beta carotene, lutein and lycopene. There are about 60 different types of carotenoids, but the study specifically assessed beta carotene, lycopene, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin. Researchers found that the higher levels of these nutrients resulted in a reduction in PSA in the men assessed.
Beta carotene is found in apricots, broccoli, carrots, collards, leafy greens, kale, mangoes, papayas, peaches, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, squash and tomatoes.
Lycopene is primarily found in guavas, pink grapefruit, papayas, rosehips, strawberries, tomatoes and watermelon.
Cryptoxanthin is found in oranges, papayas, peaches and tangerines.
Zeaxanthin is found in apricots, broccoli, carrots, collards, leafy greens, kale, mangoes, papayas, peaches, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, squash and tomatoes.
Tocopherols is another name for vitamin E. The study specifically assessed levels of alpha-tocopherol and found higher levels of the nutrient were linked to a lower PSA count. Excellent sources of alpha-tocopherol include: almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, mung bean sprouts, leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, pumpkin, olive and sunflower oils.