What you need to know about your lifestyle choices and prostate health


  • The prostate is part of the male reproductive system
  • Its most important function is to produce a fluid that transports sperm
  • A concern with prostate cancer is that men usually do not experience symptoms in the early stages.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, prostate cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in men. The 2016 National Cancer Registry said the lifetime risk for men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in South Africa is 1 in 17. This is in line with global statistics showing a significant increase in frequency.

The prostate is a small gland located in the male reproductive system, just below the bladder. The most important function of the prostate is to produce fluid which plays a role in the formation of semen.

Some of the risk factors for prostate cancer include age, ethnicity, a family history of prostate cancer, obesity, being overweight, and a general unhealthy lifestyle. It is therefore important to start screening as early as possible.

Symptoms and screening

The worrying thing about prostate cancer is that in the early stages of the disease, men usually have no symptoms. It is only at a later stage that some symptoms may appear, such as frequent or painful urination, difficulty starting or stopping urination, painful ejaculation, and blood appearing in urine or semen.

More advanced cancer can cause pain in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs. It is therefore particularly important to get tested annually to detect any problem as soon as possible.

This is done by a doctor doing a digital exam of the rectum and getting a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. PSA is a protein produced by cancerous and non-cancerous prostate tissue and high levels are associated with prostate cancer.

However, there may be other reasons why PSA levels appear high, such as inflammation of the prostate and non-cancerous enlarged prostate.

Despite this, it is still considered a good starting point for early detection of prostate cancer so that you can get all the help you need as soon as possible. A PSA test can be performed by most CANSA health centers.

A prostate biopsy remains the only conclusive diagnosis, as it can detect cancer cells, but will only be done if cancer is suspected.

READ | Exercise can help activate the immune system to fight prostate cancer

The role of lifestyle

Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and physical inactivity are all factors that contribute to an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. Obesity is also an important risk factor for the development and progression of this disease.

The good news, however, is that studies have shown that vigorous activity, such as jogging, cycling, swimming, or anything else that makes your heart beat, is associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

According to the WHO, you should get about 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

Nutrition Dos and Don’ts

Nutrition plays a crucial role in the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer.

A typical Western diet characterized by a high consumption of red and processed meat, fried foods, fast foods, whole dairy products, refined starches and sugars and a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, vegetable oils, of fish, seeds, nuts, legumes and whole grains can dramatically increase your risk.

Lycopene is the pigment that gives foods like tomatoes, guava, papaya, ruby ​​grapefruit, and watermelon their red color. This red pigment acts as a powerful antioxidant which inhibits the growth of certain cancer cells and is therefore one of the most studied nutrients in prostate cancer research.

Tomatoes are particularly high in lycopene and have been shown to be better absorbed when heated and eaten with oil, which makes tomato paste, tomato sauces, and other tomato products excellent. source of this nutrient.

Research has shown that men who consume between 9 and 21 mg of lycopene per day reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer. There are 19 mg of lycopene in ¼ cup of tomato puree, 17 mg in ½ cup of tomato puree and 7 mg in a cup of cooked tomatoes.

It was also found that men who consumed more tomato products before their diagnosis had better quality blood vessels in their prostate tumors, which was an indication of a better health outcome.

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Should I take supplements?

When it comes to nutrients, a diet-first approach is still the golden standard. For better absorption, functionality and bioavailability in the body, the nutrients work in synergy.

This means that tomato products contain additional nutrients that provide better functionality of lycopene compared to lycopene taken on its own via a supplement.

Supplements, however, can be beneficial for some people who dislike tomato products.

At this time, there is no conclusive evidence that a single nutrient supplement can provide protection against prostate cancer, and sometimes a single nutrient supplement can cause more harm than harm. good.

Having a nutrient deficiency is obviously not good, but too high levels of a certain nutrient can be very harmful as well.

The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) evaluated the effect of vitamin E and selenium supplementation on the development of prostate cancer. They found that men who already had high levels of selenium to begin with had a 91% increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer.

They also found that high levels of vitamin E increased the risk of developing prostate cancer in men. It is therefore preferable to discuss the relevance of supplementation with your dietitian.

Put it all together

If you focus on including a minimum of five servings of fresh and colorful fruits and vegetables, use tomato products, replace your saturated fat with unsaturated fat, limit red and processed meat, stay active and maintain a healthy weight, you can reduce your risk. to develop prostate cancer significantly.

To lose weight effectively, it is best to contact your dietitian. A dietitian is able to create an individual diet plan, menu, recipes, and shopping list that suit your lifestyle, budget, and cultural food preferences. They would also be able to provide the support needed to facilitate adherence to a plan to achieve your goal weight.

READ | Is Alcohol Use In Adolescents Linked To Aggressive Prostate Cancer Later In Life?

The references:

CANSA: Men and cancer

Lycopene and prostate cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Prostate Cancer Progression and Mortality: A Review of Diet and Lifestyle Factors

Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of prostate cancer in the European prospective survey on cancer and nutrition (EPIC)

United States Food Data Central Agricultural Research Service

WHO: Health Promotion – Physical Activity

Image credit: Mohamed Hassan, Pixabay


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