It won’t come as to much of a surprise that not all doctors share my enthusiasm for natural medicine. One common criticism other conventionally-trained medics have of complementary therapy is that it is unscientific and unproven. Personally, I would caution doctors against camping out on this particular high ground. The fact is, many medical practices are simply untested. Worse still, some methods doctors engage in have actually been shown to be ineffective. A good example of this is the practice of prostate cancer screening. Research published recently in the British Medical Journal found that picking up prostate cancer earlier does nothing to improve a man’s chances of surviving the condition. Bearing in mind that a diagnosis of cancer is usually a significant psychological downer, and that resultant treatment may have side effects such as impotence and incontinence, and one might wonder whether prostate cancer screening may actually do more harm than good.
While the wisdom behind screening for prostate cancer is seriously in doubt, it’s not necessarily a condition men can afford to ignore either. Currently, prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in men in the UK, and its incidence appears to rising too. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. A lot of evidence exists that a man’s risk of prostate cancer seems to be intimately related to what he eats. One of the most profound influences on the risk of prostate cancer is the amount of oily fish in the diet. Oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardine are rich in a class of healthy fats known as the omega-3 fatty acids. More than one study has found that a high level of omega-3 fats in the body is associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. In one piece of research, men consuming moderate or high amounts of oily fish had only a quarter of the risk of developing prostate cancer of men who ate none. In light of these findings, men wanting to reduce their risk of developing cancer of the prostate might do well to consume at least two or three portions of oily fish per week.
Some of this research has focused on the role of dairy products in prostate cancer. In a study published in 1998 in the medical journal Cancer Causes and Control, high consumption of dairy products was associated with a 50 per cent rise in prostate cancer risk. Another study published found that consuming 2½ servings of dairy products per day appears to increase prostate cancer risk by more than 40 per cent. Swapping soya-based for animal-based dairy products makes sense for men: one study found that men consuming soya milk more than once a day enjoyed a 70 per cent reduction in risk of this disease.
Antioxidants are generally found in abundance in fruits and vegetables. These foods are also rich in substances known as phytochemicals (pronounced fy ” toe ” chemicals), some of which have cancer-protective effects. Last year, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that men consuming four servings of vegetables a day had a 35 p.c. reduced risk of prostate cancer compared to those consuming two servings of vegetables a day. Eating three or more servings of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbage) was found to reduce risk by about 40 per cent compared to eating only one serving a week.
One particular nutrient which has received special attention for its role in prostate cancer prevention is the trace mineral selenium. A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published in 1998 found that men with the highest level of selenium in their body’s had about one third the risk of developing prostate cancer compared to men with the lowest selenium levels. This research comes on the back of a study published in 1996 which found that men supplementing with 200 mcg of selenium per day enjoyed a significantly reduced risk of prostate cancer, and had their risk of dying from this condition cut by two-thirds. One of the richest natural sources of selenium is brazil nuts. However, supplementation (at a dose of 200 mcg a day) does seem prudent for men wanting to give themselves the most assured protection.