From Insights May 2014 Vol.17 Is. 2 | Stanley Brosman, M.D. PCRI Medical Review Board | Pacific Urology Institute
There’s hardly anyone has not been bombarded with ads for various dietary supplements that promise to make you live forever as well as preventing, or stopping prostate cancer. They even come with a money-back guarantee. Billions of dollars are spent on marketing using terms such as “nutrigenic testing,” “personalized supplements,” feed your genes right,” and “intelligent diet.” The problem is that the actual studies that would verify these claims don’t exist. These products are not regulated by the FDA so claims can be made without proof. To make things even more confusing, even when a study is published in a medical journal purporting to document a benefit, subsequent studies may end up being contradictory. In my opinion, supplements should supplement a good diet and exercise, not attempt to replace healthy lifestyle choices.
One Diet To Rule Them All
A healthy diet combined with appropriate therapy does decrease the growth rate of cancer cells. In addition, we all know that diet has beneficial overall health effects. Prostate cancer is not the only factor that affects survival and quality of life. Of the men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, more die from heart disease than from the prostate cancer. So, an optimal prostate cancer diet is the same as a “heart healthy diet.”
Exercise And Diet Are Complementary
The target for body fat content for men should be between 15% and 20%. This can be achieved by portion control (limiting total amount of food consumed) and by increasing energy expenditure with exercise. The body needs a minimum amount of caloric intake to manage daily functions. But excess calories that aren’t burned off through exercise end up being stored as fat. Here in America we tend toward a sedentary society. We sit most of the day in front of a monitor, sit in our cars, sit down to a big dinner, then sit watching TV. Not much of a surprise that we have lots of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Don’t forget that these poor lifestyle choices can also cause poor sexual performance.
What Everyone Agrees on about Diet
The basic principles of a Heart Healthy diet are: low fat (specifically low omega-6 fats), low salt, low glucose-spiking starches and sugars and low red meat consumption. More fish, grains, fruit, vegetables and lots of water contribute to a heart healthy diet as well. Overall food consumption should be limited to what can be burned through exercise. Speaking of burning, foods should be cooked at lower temperatures to avoid charring. Exercise, stress management, and motivation round out a healthy lifestyle.
How do Supplements Play into a Healthy Lifestyle?
By now you’ve noticed that the topic of diet has a much larger scope than how it affects prostate cancer development or progression, but in terms of prostate cancer, how about all the supplements that are on the market that supposedly increase your survival or quality of life? The answer is, it’s still a mystery. Typically we don’t measure the amount of these supplemental substances in our blood. Even when we do measure them, blood levels aren’t a perfect indicator of the levels in the organs or tissues.
Of course we know that we need essential vitamins and nutrients, but a healthy diet includes these already. These nutrients are present in the fruits and vegetables we eat, and the body knows what to do with them.
The Example of Lycopene
Supplemental lycopene is illustrative of the problems we face when examining dietary supplements. It’s a beta carotenoid and a very potent antioxidant. It is the predominant carotenoid found in blood and various tissues (including the prostate). It can be found in watermelon, tomato (and tomato products), pink grapefruit, apricots, guavas, papayas, and persimmons. Some studies provide evidence that lycopene intake has no effect on prostate cancer while others show compelling evidence that dietary lycopene reduces the risk of developing the lethal variety of prostate cancer. Since we don’t measure lycopene levels in the blood or tissue, it’s hard to tell how much is the right amount, who needs more and who already has enough. Lycopene is not bad for you, but it is unclear about how beneficial extra lycopene is for your health.
But should we just take a pill because “it wouldn’t hurt?” Wouldn’t a better motivation be to choose a supplement because it’s actually proven to have a positive effect? Pills are no substitute for the benefits of exercise and a good diet.
What We Do Know
It is clear that a combination of a healthy diet and exercise–along with good treatment–are proven to maximize survival (from many health conditions), providing a good quality of life simultaneously. At most, supplements can only supplement a healthy lifestyle, and should definitely not be thought of as a replacement. Yes it is easier to take a pill for some peace of mind, but the benefits of pursuing a healthy lifestyle are far greater.