Low-Fat, Plant-Based Diet Protects the Prostate

If you are a man who wants to avoid having prostate problems, eat less fat and more fiber and catch some rays. The standard American diet, which is high in fat and animal hormones and low in fiber, is a major risk factor for prostate problems. The lack of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is another risk factor. To get vitamin D, go out in the  sunshine.

The prostate gland, which is found only in males, produces seminal fluid, which carries and nourishes the sperm cells. The prostate is found underneath the bladder, and it is wrapped around the urethra, which is the tube that drains urine from the bladder. In a young man, the prostate is normally about the size of a walnut. Unfortunately, the prostate can grow much larger as a man ages. Thus, it can end up blocking the flow of urine from the bladder. That’s why so many elderly men often have so much trouble in emptying their bladder completely, and why they often have to get up several times during the night to pee. Fortunately, this enlargement is preventable.

The prostate is a sex gland, and its growth is driven by sex hormones. The sex hormones in a man’s body are made mainly by his testes but also by his adrenal glands. If he eats dairy products and meat, he can also get a dose of animal hormones in his food. Even meat and milk from organic farms contain the animal’s natural hormones. Dairy products are a particularly potent source of estrogen because dairy cows are milked during their pregnancies.

Plants also have hormones, but their hormones are completely different from ours. Some plant foods, such as soybeans, contain estrogen-like substances called phytoestrogens. However, the phytoestrogens tend to be weaker than natural estrogens. Thus, they could end up reducing the effects of the body’s natural estrogens by competing with natural estrogens for the estrogen receptors.

A change to a plant-based diet helps to reduce a man’s exposure to sex hormones. A diet based on low-fat, unrefined plant foods also helps the body excrete excess sex hormones. In particular, the fiber in unrefined plant foods helps to carry the excess hormones out of the body.

The sex hormones are made out of cholesterol, which is a waxy substance that does not mix with water. Nor do the active forms of the sex hormones mix with water. To be carried around the body by the bloodstream, they have to be bound to a special carrier protein. To get rid of excess sex hormones, the liver converts them to an inactive, water-soluble form that then gets passed out of the body through the kidneys or is carried by the bile into the intestines. If the person is eating a high-fiber diet, the sex hormones can bind to the fiber inside the intestine and be carried swiftly out of the body.

Unfortunately, if the man is eating the standard American diet, he is eating way too much fat and not nearly enough fiber. When people eat a fatty diet, their bowels tend to contain a large population of the kinds of bacteria that can convert the sex hormones back to the active form. This problem is compounded by low-fiber diet, which causes constipation. The low-fiber diet passes through the bowels so slowly that there will be extra time for those reactivated sex hormones to be reabsorbed. That’s why people who eat fatty, low-fiber diets have trouble eliminating sex hormones. As a result of that problem, they end up with higher risks for hormone-driven diseases, including acne, prostate enlargement, and prostate cancer. Not sexy.

When a man has benign enlargement of the prostate, he simply has too many cells in the prostate. This problem generally results from a hormonal imbalance: too much sex hormone and not enough vitamin D, which is also a hormone. Most people know that vitamin D is important for maintaining calcium balance in the body. However, it is also important for regulating the immune system, and for keeping certain kinds of cells, including benign and cancerous cells of the prostate, from growing out of control.

Most people of European ancestry who live in the northeastern United States can get enough vitamin D through getting a few minutes’ worth of midday sunshine on the face, hands, and arms in the spring, summer, and fall. But since the melanin that makes dark skin dark is a form of sunscreen, darker-skinned people need to spend a lot more time outdoors to get enough vitamin D.

African-American men have the world’s highest risk of prostate cancer. Yet prostate cancer is rare among black men in Africa. That’s because black men in Africa generally eat a diet that is far lower in fat and higher in fiber, and they get plenty of exposure to strong sunlight. In contrast, black men in the United States tend to eat the rich, fatty standard American diet, and they are at particular risk for vitamin D deficiency because of our relatively weak sunshine and their relatively dark skin.

A low-fat, high-fiber, plant-based diet is a promising way to prevent prostate cancer. It can even provide benefits to men who already have prostate cancer. A study led by Dean Ornish, MD, found that this kind of diet could help men with early-stage prostate cancer avoid or delay conventional treatment for at least 2 years. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18602144

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