Flaxseed Helps Prevent Prostate Troubles
Supplementing with ground flaxseeds may slow the growth of prostate tissue in elderly men, reports a study in Urology (2004;63:900–4). That finding is good news for the millions of men who experience urination difficulty because of an enlarged prostate gland (also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH).
BPH is one of the most common conditions affecting men over the age of 50. Symptoms of BPH may include frequent urination, needing to get up at night to urinate, difficulty starting the urine flow, and reduced pressure behind the urinary stream. If BPH becomes severe, it can obstruct urine flow, resulting in a medical emergency. More often, however, BPH is just a nuisance, interfering with the quality of life. Several prescription medicines are available to treat BPH; when these are unsuccessful, surgery may be recommended to remove a portion of the prostate gland. Natural remedies that are often beneficial for BPH include essential fatty acids, saw palmetto berries, and Pygeum africanum (an extract of the bark of an evergreen tree that grows in Africa).
In the new study, 15 elderly men recently diagnosed with early prostate cancer or precancerous changes in prostate tissue, or both, were advised to consume a low-fat diet (less than 20% of total calories from fat) supplemented with 30 grams (approximately 3 tablespoons) per day of ground flaxseeds. Levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a test that correlates with the risk of prostate cancer, were measured at the beginning of the study and after six months. Prostate biopsies were also repeated after six months, unless the PSA level became normal during the study.
The average PSA level fell by 33% during the study, and it became normal in 2 of the 15 men. Among the 13 men who underwent a repeat prostate biopsy, a 68% reduction was seen in the growth rate of benign (noncancerous) prostate tissue. That finding suggests that a low-fat diet supplemented with flaxseeds can help control the excessive growth of prostate tissue that frequently occurs in older men. Additional research is needed to determine how much of the improvement was due to the diet and how much to the flaxseeds.
Flaxseeds are rich in essential fatty acids, which some doctors have found to be helpful in the treatment of BPH. Flaxseeds also contain hormone-like substances called lignans, which have been shown to influence the metabolism of testosterone in a way that might be expected to improve BPH. There has been some concern that consuming large amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (the main fatty acid present in flaxseeds and flaxseed oil) may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. That concern is based on population studies, in which a high intake of alpha-linolenic acid was associated with a higher incidence of prostate cancer. Population studies, however, do not prove cause and effect, and they often lead to conclusions that turn out later to be incorrect. In contrast, studies in animals, and preliminary studies in humans, suggest that flaxseeds may have an anticancer effect on both breast and prostate tissue.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.
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