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Prostate Prevention: Using natural means to promote a healthy prostate

If you're a man in your 40s or 50s, you're probably giving more than passing thought to the risk of prostate cancer. Even if you're younger, there's reason to be concerned about male problems. Testicular cancer, which generally affects men under age 35, is on the rise and sperm counts are dropping fast among men of all ages.

What's going on? Many researchers have been drawing attention to male health issues, as if to balance the recent medical emphasis on breast cancer in women. Significantly, male and female reproductive diseases are not mutually exclusive, and many of their causes appear be identical. In addition, eating the right foods and avoiding environmental pollutants may protect both men and women.

Prostate Cancer

For years, prostate cancer was considered a disease of elderly men, most of whom died of other causes without ever having any symptoms of prostate cancer. The reason is that prostate cancers generally grow slowly and don't pose an immediate threat to health. In fact, cross-cultural medical studies have shown that prostate cancers occur at about the same incidence regardless of where men live.

So, what has changed? For one, medicine has gotten better at diagnosing prostate cancer, largely because of a super-sensitive blood test called the PSA, for prostate specific antigen. The American Cancer Society estimates that some 165,000 men will be diagnosed with the condition this year. But many doctors still question whether most of these men require any treatment at all. Another change is medicine's growing concerns with invasive prostate cancer. The incidence of this deadly form prostate cancer does appear to be increasing among men in their 40s and 50s in some countries, including the United States. Unlike most prostate cancers, invasive cancer rapidly engulfs the organ and spreads throughout the body.

Low Glutathione Increases Risk

One important clue to the cause of prostate cancer emerged in a recent comparison of prostate cancer cells and healthy ones. William Nelson, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md., discovered a genetic defect in prostate cancer cell samples from 88 of 91 men. This defect prevents the body from producing glutathione S-transferase (GST), a substance needed by the liver to detoxify harmful chemicals. The defect was not found in cells from healthy men. Vitamin C and the amino acid lysine promote the formation of glutathione and GST. Nutritional chemicals called isothiocyanates and sulforaphanes, found in broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, also increase production of glutathione and GST.

Soy Flavonoids Protective

Another group of nutrients, called (bio)flavonoids, appears to protect against invasive prostate cancer. More than 4,000 flavonoids have been identified in plants, but a particular one in soy may be the most important in terms of preventing prostate cancer.

This soy flavonoid, genistein, has a very weak estrogenic effect so weak, in fact, it will not affect masculinity. Yet, it seems to protect against prostate cancers stimulated by male and female hormones. (In actuality, the female hormone estrogen is also produced in the male body, though in very small amounts.)

An international team of researchers has suggested that soy intake may account for why some men have a low incidence of invasive prostate cancer relative to others. Herman Adlercreutz, M.D., and his colleagues from Finland and Japan compared levels of several types of flavonoids in the blood of 14 healthy middle-aged Japanese and 14 Finnish men. On average, blood levels of these nutrients including genistein were 7 to 110 times higher among the Japanese men, compared with the Finns. Other research has shown that genistein prevents malignant angiogenesis, the development of blood vessels that promote can

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