By: Dan Sperling, MD
Did you know that, according to one study, more than 50% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as a health resource?[i] And the same study reports that many of them do not even tell their doctors.
Men who take vitamins, minerals, herbs and other supplements do so in an effort to boost their immune system and reduce the chance of recurrence. Prostate cancer patients are quite aware that invasive conventional treatments can leave urinary and sexual function impaired, if only in the short term, whereas they see CAM as something that at least will do no harm. Use of supplements, mind-body techniques such as meditation, and stress management also provides many patients with a sense of empowerment, and of taking control of managing their disease.[ii]
Here are three of the most common supplements that prostate cancer patients report using:
- Green tea, which contains compounds that may have a beneficial health effect. One of the most abundant of these is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG acts as an androgen antagonist, possibly suppressing prostate cancer cell proliferation as well as production of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) by cancer cells. At least in the laboratory, EGCG has been shown to increase prostate cancer cell death.
- Lycopene is a naturally-occurring pigment in fruits and vegetables, common in watermelon, tomatoes, apricots and guava. Some laboratory studies have demonstrated that lycopene reduces prostate cancer cell proliferation, and may affect cell-cycle progression. Such results, however, have been inconsistent. Still, the FDA recognizes lycopene as a supplement that does no harm.
- Pomegranate contains numerous compounds that have antioxidant properties, aiding overall health and longevity. In laboratory studies, some of these compounds seem to inhibit the proliferation of various prostate cancer cell lines, and even lead to cell death in a dose-dependent manner. Studies with rodents have shown that pomegranate juice can decrease the rate of development, growth, and spread of prostate cancer. However, in the only fully reported clinical trial during which prostate cancer patients used pomegranate juice, on average they had an increase in their PSA doubling time. Therefore, drinking pomegranate juice is of inconclusive value in prostate cancer.
We encourage patients to research the value of any prostate health supplements they are considering.
[i] McDermott CL, Blough DK, Fedorenko CR, et al.: Complementary and alternative medicine use among newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients. Support Care Cancer 20 (1): 65-73, 2012.