Prostate Health Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
The prostate, which is part of the male reproductive system, is a gland that surrounds the bladder and urethra. It is about the size of a walnut and grows throughout a man’s life. When the gland is enlarged it is called benign prostate hypertrophy or BPH. Another common prostate problem is prostate cancer, which the most common cancers in men.
A question often asked is, ‘Are there foods that can help to support the prostate?’ It appears that certain foods can help, but ensure you also have qualified medical support and the guidance of a natural health practitioner.
A test used to determine the health of the prostate is the PSA or Prostate Specific Antigen.
Prostate Specific Antigen is a protein produced by cells in the prostate gland. The test measures the amount of PSA circulating in a man’s blood. The blood PSA is commonly elevated in men with prostate conditions such as cancer. In fact, the PSA test was originally designed to monitor men diagnosed with prostate cancer.
A man’s PSA level can also raise with non-cancerous conditions of the prostate such prostatitis, which is inflammation of the prostate, and also from benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is the enlargement of the prostate.
Men who report prostate symptoms such as difficulty urinating etc, often undergo PSA testing, along with a digital rectal exam to help doctors determine the nature of the problem. There is no evidence that prostatitis or BPH leads to prostate cancer, but it is possible for a man to have one or both of these conditions to then develop prostate cancer as well.
Zinc is probably THE most important mineral for the health of the prostate. It has been found that men with either BPH or prostate cancer have lower levels of zinc, sometimes up to 75 percent lower than men with healthy prostates.
You can get your zinc levels tested with blood and hair analysis. It is ideal for your zinc levels to be at the top end of the ‘normal’ reference range. Also test copper levels to see that the zinc to copper ratio is correct, with zinc at a higher level than copper.
If your copper level is higher than zinc (even if both are within the reference range) you may need to use supplemental zinc until the balance changes, with zinc higher.
Zinc that comes from food is generally better absorbed than zinc supplements, however if your practitioner prescribes you supplemental zinc then please follow their instructions as you may initially need more than what your diet can provide.
Note: If you are vegetarian or vegan you may need to look at supplementation to balance your copper to zinc ratio as most vegetarian/vegan foods are naturally high in copper. The richest sources of zinc come from animal or seafood origin.
Foods rich in zinc
- Oysters: one oyster contains 8-10mg zinc. Other seafood has good amounts of zinc, especially clams, scallops, and prawns.
- Beef: grass fed beef has 1mg zinc per ounce (28g) of meat, grain fed only ¼ mg zinc per ounce. So, go for grass fed beef.
- Lamb: the same as beef, grass fed lamb has 4 times the amount of zinc compared to grain fed.
- Chicken (all poultry): eat pasture raised, or forget about getting much zinc from chicken. However, some studies suggest that both chicken and eggs increase the risk of prostate cancer, but this could be from hormone fed chickens rather than pasture raised chicken/eggs. The verdict is out on this one, but if eating poultry or eggs make sure you only get the best.
- Asparagus, spinach, shiitake and cremini mushrooms, and Quinoa are all good source of zinc.
- Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and cashews.
- Adzuki beans, garbanzo beans and lentils have good amounts of zinc.
- Nuts: most nuts, but almonds highest in zinc.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Studies have shown that deficiencies of the good fats may lead to prostate problems. Healthy fats can be found in salmon. But if you’re not a fan of fish, you can get your omega-3 healthy fats from walnuts, Brazil nuts (also rich in selenium) and most other nuts, ground flax seeds and kidney beans.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that may play a role in fighting BPH. Bell peppers/capsicum contain more vitamin C than any other fruit or vegetable. Other vegetables with good vitamin C content are broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Berries like strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Vitamin C may also help ease BPH symptoms by promoting urination and reducing swelling.
This is the substance that gives tomatoes their red colour. Lycopene may lower the risk of developing BPH and prostate cancer. Tomatoes are the best source of lycopene, but other sources include watermelon, apricots, pink grapefruit, and papaya.
Beta-sitosterol is known to help reduce symptoms associated with BPH. Men taking beta-sitosterol supplements have better urinary flow and less residual urine volume and it can help strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation and pain. Foods rich in beta-sitosterol include avocadoes, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, and pecans.
Green leafy vegetables
Eating more vegetables can help to lower your risk of BPH. Green leafy vegetables are especially important because they are rich in antioxidants. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli also reduce the risk of prostate problems, including BPH and prostate cancer.
Processed grains have their nutrients removed which disturbs the copper-zinc ratio, whereas whole grains contain phytates in the husks which interfere with zinc absorption, but not copper absorption, giving a net result of a higher copper to zinc ratio when eating these foods. Zinc is super important for the prostate, among other important things, so either way, processed or whole, grains are not a desirable food for a healthy prostate.
How you cook your food is important when trying to avoid health issues like BPH, prostate cancer or any cancer for that matter. The more browned or blackened a food is, the more carcinogenic compounds are present in the food.
Charring animal proteins creates toxic heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Char grilled, BBQ’d or even roasted meats fall into this category. Light brown is fine, black is toxic, so steaming, boiling or light stir-frying are possibly the best methods to cook your meat, chicken, and fish.
Red meat and processed meat
Studies show that red meat, processed meats, and processed foods in general should be avoided for prostate problems. But red meat contains the largest amount of zinc from animal sources. When researching this subject unfortunately I could not find any studies that compared zinc in grain-fed animals to grass-fed animals.
However, studies have shown that grass-fed animals contain larger amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids (anti-inflammatory) and grain-fed animals have more Omega 6 (pro-inflammatory) fatty acids. My educated guess is that the issue with red meat is governed by how the animals are raised and fed. If you want to eat red meat, I recommend the grass-fed, pasture raised variety – in moderation.
Chicken, turkey, duck, and eggs
As mentioned previously, some research suggests that poultry products can increase the risk of prostate cancer. Studies show that the risk created by poultry could be linked to the carcinogens in cooked proteins as discussed above in ‘charred foods’, which basically means that any meat protein can be an issue if charred.
Many feel that the biggest issue with poultry and cancers has more to do with hormones and antibiotics fed to animals that are grain fed, and the fact that these animals have a higher ratio of pro-inflammatory fats compared to the anti-inflammatory fats found in grass and pasture raised animals.
If you think about it, animals that have a better lifestyle and diet are healthier and hence offer us more health-giving properties when we eat them. Eating sickly animals that need to be propped up with antibiotics and hormones are not going to be beneficial for us.
There is now plenty of research showing pasture raised healthy animals of all kinds have a higher ratio of good fats, better mineral composition, and are leaner. We want that for our own health, but when it comes to getting the most out of each hectare/acre of land and to offer people the cheapest prices, man does things to make that happen – often to the detriment of not only the animals but also us.
I do understand that organic and pasture fed animals are more expensive, but a good way around this is to simply eat a little less protein and more vegetables so that you get the best of both. As more people chose better quality foods, the prices will get cheaper.
Nutritional experts claim that dairy products could stimulate the growth of prostate cancers and that non-dairy alternatives such as almond milk or coconut milk are better options. In 14 different trials, researchers dripped organic cows’ milk onto human prostate cancer cells in a petri dish.
The result was the organic cow’s milk increased the rate of cancer growth by more than 30%. This figure may have been even higher with non-organic milk. However, almond milk was shown to suppress the growth of cancerous cells by 30% and as a bonus, is also rich in zinc.
Alcohol and prostate health
It’s interesting to see how science can disagree. You can find some research claiming a moderate level of alcohol (1-2 standard drinks) per day can help prevent prostate cancer and BPH and other research claims that one drink per day can dramatically increase a man’s chance of developing prostate cancer. From my perspective, after working with more than 16,000 clients on their health problems and dietary influences, I favour the latter research.
A study from Curtin University shows that a single glass of beer, wine, or spirits every couple of weeks can increase a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer by almost 10 per cent. Alcohol policy team leader Professor Chikritzhs from the Curtin University states that health professionals need to completely rethink their stance on low-level alcohol consumption, saying, ‘…there’s no point at which we can say there is zero risk of cancer, or prostate cancer.’
Saturated and hydrogenated fats
There are good and bad types of saturated fats, and the ones considered bad for the prostate are those found in animal proteins like red meats. But further studies now show that pasture/grass fed animals actually have good levels of fats that support better health.
The saturated fats found in coconut are fine to eat and are even considered to be helpful in the treatment and prevention of prostate disorders. Hydrogenated fats such as margarine, trans-fats in processed foods, or super-heated vegetable fats (deep fried chips for example) are very toxic for the prostate.
Overall, foods to support prostrate health include fish, seafood, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, and some fruit – in essence, healthy, nutritious foods.
This might seem limiting if you are used to eating meats and chicken on most days. However, if you predominantly choose seafood, legumes, and vegie/salad options, then if you eat pasture-raised chicken or red meat once or twice a week, this would give you variety and be supportive for prostate health.
But if you have more serious conditions of the prostate such as prostate cancer, it’s advisable for the time being to choose seafood options until your practitioner suggests otherwise.
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Following are two case studies – one that was not so successful in my eyes, and the other one with good results. You will see why.
Client name and identifying information changed
75yr old Jimmy came to me soon after he was diagnosed with quite elevated PSA (prostate specific antigen) – a marker of prostate health and risk for prostate cancer.
Jimmy’s doctor wanted to remove the prostate even though there was no cancer detected at that point. But Jimmy had some friends who had their prostates removed and had heard their stories of how bad it was and how they were left impotent.
Jimmy said that he wanted my help to do anything possible to reduce his PSI level before they ‘chop him up’ (his words). At that point he was committed to do whatever it took to make things better.
We tested his zinc, which was super low, and his overall diet was very poor. Part of his daily ritual was to sit on the balcony at the end of the day with his wife and drink a whole bottle of red wine (each) along with lots of cheese and crackers. This was their together time to relax. I can understand wanting to have quality time with his wife, but I said that the wine, cheese, and crackers had to go.
Well, this news was worse for him than hearing that he may develop prostate cancer. It didn’t go down well even though I offered him options such as having grape juice in sparkling mineral water and some avocado dip or hummus dip with gluten-free seed crackers or other healthy snacks they could have out on the balcony together.
He was happy to take a zinc supplement, but said he had to discuss the other changes with his wife. He phoned me two days later and said he was going to have the operation because he wasn’t prepared to change his diet.
You might wonder why I’ve included a case study that failed. I wanted to share with you that a commitment to your health through diet and lifestyle (along with medical advice and treatment as needed) is really important to make changes for the better. The reality is that there are no short-cuts.
And on that note, even though Jimmy had his prostate cut out, which surely saved him from prostate cancer, what other problems would his diet and lifestyle create later for his health?
I never heard from him again, but funny enough, I did get a rush of men at the clinic for the next couple of months who were facing the same scenario (maybe Jimmy spoke to them). But these guys were committed to do what was needed. The next case study was one of them….
Client name and identifying information changed
Mick was only 45 when he discovered that his PSA was quite elevated. There was a strong family history with all the men having prostate cancer. His dad died from it. His elder brothers had their prostates removed and Mick was encouraged to have his removed.
Mick told me that his family led rather unhealthy lives and he was relatively healthy by comparison. He wanted to see if diet and lifestyle adjustments could help him as his doctor was happy to monitor his PSA levels for the time being.
Looking at Mick’s diet I could see that although it was indeed relatively healthy by most standards, there were things that could be done to make improvements, especially considering that certain foods or cooking methods can make a big difference.
Being an Aussie male, he and his family were big on having loads of BBQ’s with lots of red meat and sausages, all nicely charred (but served with healthy salads) washed down with a couple of beers during weekends. Mick played a lot of sport so he was fit and strong, which certainly does help to support good prostate health.
I asked him if he liked fish and seafood – fortunately he loved them and would often go out fishing and get a ‘big catch’ and stock up the freezer. So I suggested that initially while we tried to get his PSA levels down, to eat fish or seafood every day for at least one meal a day and legumes, nuts and seeds with salads and veggies for his other meals.
He chose to eat – paleo style muesli with almond milk for his breakfasts; sardines in tomato with home-made seed crackers for his morning tea snack; a big salad with sprouted legumes for lunch; fish, prawns, scallops, or oysters (steamed, lightly stir-fried or lightly grilled/broiled, or lightly pan fried in coconut oil) with veggies or salad for dinner.
We discussed avoiding beer and other alcohol, as well as coffee, dairy products, all grains, and sugar (which he did). He ate more berries and for a refreshing drink once a day, he drank frozen sugar free cranberries blended with coconut water and coconut oil. Cranberries are said to be good for the urogenital areas and although cranberries are sour, the coconut tastes sweet, has no sugar, and contains good anti-inflammatory fats.
His wife loved the new menu and she lost 5 kgs/11lbs in a month and felt great. Mick was happy as his PSA level dropped by 50% in one month, so being motivated by the results he continued the diet for another two months. When re-tested, his PSA was within the normal range.
He started to add back either some pasture raised red meat or chicken for some variety for one meal a week and continued with the fish and seafood. Three months later his PSA was still good.
He maintained this diet for the next twelve months while still holding good PSA results, so he was happy to continue and to keep monitoring his levels just to be sure. His doctor said to keep doing whatever he was doing.
Note: Always be under the guidance of your doctor and be regularly tested if making any changes to your diet to support prostate health.