While prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men, traditional treatments including cancer drugs, radiation, and surgery can have unpleasant side effects. Consequently, some men seek alternative remedies as part of their cancer treatment. Although researchers continue to study the role nutrition plays in the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer, there are several key nutrients that hold promise.
According to the American Cancer Institute, laboratory research indicates that lycopene -- an antioxidant nutrient found in tomatoes -- may help lower the risk of prostate cancer. Studies show that treatment with lycopene leads to less cancer cell damage and growth. Therefore, combining lycopene treatment with standard cancer drugs may help prevent cancer cells from spreading.
Animal studies also have shown fewer tumors in mice injected with human prostate cancer cells that were treated with lycopene supplements. Research continues, but a diet high in lycopene or lycopene supplementation appears safe for cancer patients, as few adverse effects, including drug interactions, have been reported.
The findings of laboratory studies have shown that compounds in pomegranates -- a fruit used for medicinal purposes that dates back to ancient cultures -- can increase cancer cell death and decrease the spread of prostate cancer by slowing the growth of cancer cells. While studies involving the use of pomegranate extract for therapeutic use in reducing PSA (prostate specific antigens) levels continue, consuming pomegranate fruit or juice as part of a well-balanced diet can have other healthful benefits.
Selenium, a trace mineral found in meat, vegetables, and nuts that plays a role in the body's immunity, also may lower the risk of developing prostate cancer. One study that looked at 60,000 men between the ages of 55 to 69 found that men with high selenium levels were at reduced risk for advanced prostate cancer. Although clinical trials have shown mixed results, some studies also suggest that early treatment with certain forms of selenium may slow cancer cell growth.
Some studies suggest a link between prostate cancer and men with low levels of vitamin D. While more research is needed to study the effectiveness of vitamin D as a treatment for prostate cancer, laboratory studies of tumors in mice have shown that vitamin D slows the growth of cancer cells. Vitamin D binds to receptors in prostate tissue that may stop cancer cells from growing and spreading to other parts of the body.
Although some cancer patients may use these and other dietary supplements as an alternative treatment for the symptoms and side effects associated with prostate cancer, dietary supplements are regulated as foods and not as drugs. Therefore, approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not required. That's why it's important to talk to your doctor first about the safety of any alternative treatments for prostate cancer, as some dietary supplements may interact with traditional cancer treatments you are receiving.