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Prostate Cancer Myths: What's Fact and What's Fiction?

As Movember progresses, men across the city attempt to groom and style the fuzz on their upper lip, seeking to raise awareness about prostate cancer through moustaches ranging from swarthy to sad. But like most things, with awareness comes false information.

It can be difficult to differentiate between which rumours are fact and which are fiction. Dr. Garrett Swetlikoff of Kelowna Naturopathic Clinic delved into medical studies to see what they revealed about these purported truths and what we can reliably do to promote prostate health and prevent cancer.

Here are the doctor's responses as he separates fact from myth:

10 tablespoons of cooked tomatoes weekly can reduce prostate cancer risk by 50%

It is well known that anti-oxidants are an effective part of cancer prevention and tomatoes are well known to produce lycopene. Lycopene is an anti-oxidant or carotenoid pigment that gives fruits and vegetables their red colour and is reputed to reduce the risk of cancers, including prostate cancer.

Cooked tomatoes do seem to work better than raw, as the process of cooking breaks down some of the lycopene making it easier to assimilate. Lycopene is best absorbed with some kind of fat, so consider adding olive oil, chicken or fish.

Dr. Swetlikoff noted that a 50% reduction in risk is a bit high according to medical studies over the last 10 years. Many studies were non-committal about any percentage, but those that did put their estimate around 10-20% with the highest being 36%. And despite reducing the risk of the onset of cancer, the anti-oxidant doesn't seem to do much for those who already have the disease.

Other fruits and vegetables that have the carotenoid anti-oxidants are apricots, guava, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit and even some organic ketchups.

Light at night can increase prostate cancer risk by 110%

Once again, Dr. Swetlikoff said that number seems quite high and that none of the studies he looked at stated a percentage.

However, he did agree that high quality and dark sleep is imperative to good health. Impaired or interrupted sleep can weaken the immune system and was shown to cause acceleration of cancer and tumour growth in rats.

Having light while you are trying to sleep, whether from clock radios, cell phones or lighter curtains, decreases melatonin production.

“Melatonin is known to suppress certain free radicals that lead to cancer growth,” explained Dr. Swetlikoff.

Melatonin is a well-known natural sleep aid and while the usual dose is 1-3 mg, the doctor mentioned that there is research to support higher doses. There is a lot of research that indicates high doses of melatonin helped to reduce hormonal cancers like breast and prostate cancer. In European research, they dosed 10-20 mg which reduced the risk of cancer and also helped some who already had cancer.

Unlike other sleep-aids, melatonin is not considered addictive but the body can become adapted to it over time. For some people higher doses can actually disrupt sleep, leading to a feeling of being hungover or groggy in the morning.

Poor quality sleep increases prostate cancer risk

Poor sleep is known to negatively impact a lot of things in the body. Often healthy sleep is an indication that you are already healthy. People who sleep well may already have a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, good diet, etc.

People with poor quality sleep often have poor health and are at risk of cancer, mood disorders, heart disease, fatigue, etc. So while the above statement might be true, a more generalized fact is that the better you sleep, the more healthy you are and therefore you will have less risk of cancer.

Polyester underwear increases prostate cancer risk

“Polyester is made from petrochemicals, which in general have toxic properties,” said Dr. Swetlikoff. “They produce an electrostatic charge in the groin area which has been linked to infertility rather than cancer.”

Those receiving that charge were proven to have their sperm counts decrease significantly for several days or weeks after wearing them. The doctor said that it would be a bit of a stretch to tie it to prostate cancer.

Wireless signals increase prostate cancer risk

“There is lots of research regarding this,” Dr. Swetlikoff pointed out. “The Europeans are way ahead, up to ten years ahead, of us in this research.”

The research shows that cancer increases from wearing wireless devices on the body. For example, women who wear their cell phones in bras increase their risk of breast cancer and children who use a cell near their head for long periods have been shown to have a higher risk of brain tumours.

Studies have shown men having a decreased sperm count and increased testicular cancer from wearing cell phones in their trouser pocket.

“Close proximity to high tension wires, high electrical fields, and cell phone towers can all be shown to relate to a decreased immune system and increased risk of diseases as a whole,” said Dr. Swetlikoff. “However, wireless is something that many will refuse to give up, because they can't see, feel, taste it. To them the risk is nebulous but unfortunately the effects on the human body are not nebulous.”

So what are Dr. Swetlikoff's key tips for prostate health?

  1. It's not an old man's disease anymore

Get checked when you are younger. Men in their early 40's are dying from prostate cancer nowadays, so it's important to assess your prostate with your doctor and have the exam performed.

  1. Choose a healthy diet geared to prostate health

    Do's: Green tea, ground flax seeds, spices like chili, turmeric and curry, cooked tomatoes, vitamin D, magnesium, selenium, zinc and iodine

    Don'ts: Processed meats, sugars

  2. Be Informed

    Study the concepts that are out there, be informed on nutrition and the latest advances in medical knowledge

  3. Take a lifestyle approach

    Many are looking for a 'silver bullet' solution to prostate health, but it's about a combination of multiple things:

    • Exercise

    • Keep your body weight down (obesity causes all kinds of health issues)

    • Maintain proper sexual function (studies show that regular ejaculation into old age decreases prostate cancer risk)

    • Reduce exposure to wireless signals

    • Wear natural fibre clothing

“Many of these effects, both positive and negative build up over time,” concluded Dr. Swetlikoff. “That's why you have to take stock of your whole lifestyle and then make adjustments.”

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