Only men have a prostate – the small semen-producing gland that sits between the bladder and the penis – but keeping it healthy is everybody’s business.
Accounting for around 25% of all male cancers, prostate cancer is the most common form of the disease in UK men.
This means that being aware of the symptoms – which commonly include: needing to pee more frequently and urgently, especially during the night; difficulty or a delay in starting to pee, and feeling as though the bladder isn’t emptying fully – is extremely important.
Of course, there are some occasions when there are no symptoms. Take Deal Or No Deal host Noel Edmonds who just revealed he was diagnosed on November 29 2013, after a routine health test picked up raised levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in his blood. He had no symptoms.
The good news is that treatments for prostrate cancer can be very effective and the majority of men diagnosed will survive – but, as with most cancers, early diagnosis is crucial.
Symptoms don’t always indicate cancer. It’s very common for men to experience changes in bladder function as they get older. This is often due to an enlarged prostate, medically known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition that affects 50% of men over 50.
Understandably, concerns like a fear of cancer or embarrassment put lots of men off seeking tests and treatment. However, if symptoms like this are a concern, or affecting daily life, there’s a lot that can be done, so make that appointment sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, there’s growing evidence that our diets may play a role in prostate health too. Here are some of the foods you might want to make sure you’re getting enough of, or limit…
Eat plenty of these..
Soy can help keep your prostate healthy
Though evidence is limited so far and more research is needed, chemicals found in soy beans – also found in soy milk, tofu, soy bread and soy yoghurt – have been found to possibly help slow the growth of prostate cancer and prevent it returning after treatment.
Tomatoes have cancer-fighting properties
These juicy red fruits are a key part of the Mediterranean diet which is renowned for its health-enhancing credentials. Tomatoes are believed to help protect against a number of cancers, including prostate. They contain a chemical called lycopene, and while studies are limited so far, tomatoes not only make a great addition to a healthy, balanced diet, they may also help in keeping prostates well.
“Lycopene is locked away inside tomato cells, especially in the skins, which contain up to five times more lycopene than the pulp. When tomatoes are cooked, they also release five times more lycopene than is available for absorption if you eat the same tomatoes raw.
Tomato ketchup and tomato purée (which are concentrated) are among the richest dietary sources,” writes Dr Sarah Brewer in her book, Quick Nutrition: Prostate Diet. In addition, “a study involving 40 men with BPH found that taking 15mg lycopene per day for six months, reduced the progression of BPH.” If you don’t like tomatoes, other pink and red fruit can be good sources of lycopene too.
Pomegranates provide prostate cancer proetection
They’re a bit fiddly to peel and prepare, but pomegranates are well worth the effort, thanks to their long list of health-boosting benefits. Packed full of vitamins, and boasting anti-inflammatory properties, this vibrant fruit has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, dental plaque reduction, better kidney health and possible protection against prostate cancer.
Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach and sprouts can boost prostate health
Cruciferous vegetables (those related to the cabbage family, and also including things like kale and bok choy) have been linked to a slowing down of prostate cancer. This aside, there’s a wealth of evidence that a balanced diet rich in a range of vegetables maximises your intake of those all-important nutrients and antioxidants and plays a significant part in keeping well and preventing cancer in general.
A healthy, balanced diet also plays a key part in preventing obesity. Research does suggest that being overweight or obese may increase your risk for many types of cancer, including prostate. As Dr Brewer’s book notes, such veg often contain “sulphurous compounds known as glucosinolates which, when the plants are crushed, chopped or chewed, are broken down by an enzyme (myrosinase)… and have antibacterial and anticancer actions.”
Watch your intake of these foods for better prostate health
Too much salt can increase prostate cancer risk
A diet that’s too high in salt – more than 6g a day – is a major factor in high blood pressure. Remember that much of the salt we consume is ‘hidden’, often in processed foods and ready-made sauces.
So if you’re also adding salt to your meals and cooking, unless you are extremely careful that you’re not consuming much salt from ‘hidden’ sources, the chances are you’re eating far too much. Not only is high blood pressure one of the biggest causes of stroke, a leading cause of death and disability, it has also been linked with an increased risk of BPH.
Alcohol and caffeine
If you already have BPH symptoms, you might want to consider limiting your intake of alcohol and drinks containing high amounts of caffeine. These things may not have played a part in the onset of BPH, but they are known to irritate the bladder. Plus, caffeine is a diuretic (meaning it makes you pee more), so avoiding it or reducing your intake could help in managing symptoms.
Enjoy red meat just a couple of times a week for optimum prostate health
Red meat has received a lot of bad press recently, with the World Health Organisation reporting that it ‘probably’ causes cancer, although the evidence is limited. Experts still point out that red meat can be an important source of iron and protein within a balanced diet.
While there’s no clear evidence to suggest that red meat plays a significant part in prostate cancer, if you tend to eat lots of red meat – and especially if you are eating it charred – you may want to cut down.
Limit your dairy intake to help prevent prostate cancer
While the reason is unclear, Dr Brewer notes in her book that a high intake of “dairy products has been associated with increased prostate cancer risk.” A recent analysis of 32 studies found that high intakes of total dairy products - milk, low-fat milk, cheese and total calcium from dairy products (but not supplemental or non-dairy calcium) - were all associated with a small (3% to 9%) but significant increased risk of prostate cancer.
Remember that dairy products are an important source of calcium and other minerals, so don’t cut them out of your diet without ensuring you are replacing those vital nutrients with other sources. You may want to consider cutting down if you tend to eat lots of dairy. How about introducing some soy products instead, for a double whammy prostate boost?