Naturopathy and Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men. It has been said that if you are male and you live long enough you will develop the disease. That’s somewhat hyperbolic, but not much. Along with age, risk factors include race/ethnicity, nationality, family history, and socio-economic status.

Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men than in men of other races. African-American men are also more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage, and are more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer as white men. Prostate cancer occurs less often in Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino men than in non-Hispanic whites. The reasons for these racial and ethnic differences are not clear.

Prostate cancer is most common in North America, northwestern Europe, Australia, and on Caribbean islands. It is less common in Asia, Africa, Central America, and South America.

The reasons for this are not clear. More intensive screening in some developed countries probably accounts for at least part of this difference, but other factors such as lifestyle differences (diet, etc.) are likely to be important as well. For example, men of Asian descent living in the United States have a lower risk of prostate cancer than white Americans, but their risk is higher than that of men of similar backgrounds living in Asia.

Prostate cancer seems to run in some families, which suggests that in some cases there may be an inherited or genetic factor. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk of developing this disease.

Direct causes of prostate cancer are unknown, so specific actions to reduce the risk are difficult to pinpoint. On the Mayo Clinic Prostate Cancer site, a list of helpful suggestions can be found. This list is totally counter intuitive and unusual:

  • Choose a healthy diet
    There is some evidence that choosing a healthy diet that’s low in fat and full of fruits and vegetables may reduce your risk of prostate cancer, though study results haven’t always agreed.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Talk to your doctor about your risk

Radical stuff. Holistic even.

Compare that with the advice given by a local naturopath.

Question: Prostate cancer runs in my family. Is there anything I can do to help prevent it?

Answer: There are some things I would recommend because they have shown promise and are safe.

Zinc supplementation may help as it is very unrealistic for most men to get adequate amounts from diet.

Zinc as an amino acid chelate has the best absorption. Zinc reduces the conversion of testosterone to its more potent form, dihydrotestosterone, which promotes cancer growth in hormone-based prostate cancers, benign prostatic hypertrophy and male pattern baldness.

Some studies show that Lycopene, which is found in tomato products and supplement form, may be protective against prostate cancer.

A pollen extract by the name of prostaphill was shown in vitro to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells by inhibiting the enzyme that makes DHT.

Highly purified forms of maitake mushroom show much promise in causing cancer cell death and its effect is due to its beta glucan content.

Men exposed to pesticides are at higher risk for prostate cancer. The amino acid NAC, vitamin C, E and selenium work together to speed the elimination of the majority of toxins from the body.

Let’s look at this advice.

Zinc supplementation is demonstratively ineffective and some studies have shown zinc to increase the incidence of prostate cancer, particularly when taken in higher doses.

Vitamin and mineral use and risk of prostate cancer: the case–control surveillance study Yuqing Zhang, Patricia Coogan, Julie R. Palmer, Brian L. Strom and Lynn Rosenberg Cancer Causes and Control Volume 20, Number 5 (2009), 691-698

The finding that long-term zinc intake from multivitamins or single supplements was associated with a doubling in risk of prostate cancer adds to the growing evidence for an unfavorable effect of zinc on prostate cancer carcinogenesis.

While counter-productive as a prophylactic, after a positive diagnosis of cancer, supplemental zinc may be beneficial.

Although there is undoubtedly some hormonal influence in the development of prostate cancer, “no consistent linkage has been established between steroid metabolism and development of prostate cancer, and inconclusive or conflicting reports abound in the literature.” Thus, any inhibition of testosterone by zinc is unlikely to be clinically effective.

Lycopene is an antioxidant compound that gives tomatoes and certain other fruits and vegetables their colour. It is one of the major carotenoids in the diet of North Americans and Europeans. Over the years there have been studies that showed a negative correlation between diets rich in tomatoes and incidence of prostate cancer. However, as more studies are completed, it appears that any benefit is tenuous at best. For example. in a review article published in the Journal of Oncology earlier this year, Melissa Y. Wei and Edward L. Giovannucci, concluded that “there is unlikely to be a causal connection between lycopene intake and risk of prostate cancer.”

More from the Mayo Clinic:

Numerous studies correlate high intake of lycopene-containing foods or high lycopene serum levels with reduced incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration. However, estimates of lycopene consumption have been based on reported tomato intake, not on the use of lycopene supplements. Since tomatoes are sources of other nutrients, including vitamin C, folate, and potassium, it is not clear that lycopene itself is beneficial.

There is no well-established definition of “lycopene deficiency,” and direct evidence that repletion of low lycopene levels has any benefit is lacking.

Searches of PubMed and Google Scholar for any relationship between prostaphill and prostate cancer came up entirely blank. I did find one study showing a cytotoxic effect of the maitake mushrooms on cancerous cells in vitro, but nothing directly relating to effects on humans. If anyone can point me to more conclusive studies I will add them to the article.

Some studies have linked environmental pesticides to cancers, while others have not found any causal connection. Whether or not pesticide exposure leads to cancer, there is no evidence that any supplement or physical based types of ‘detoxification‘ are anything other than pseudoscience.

It is important to weigh the risks and benefits of any treatment before beginning. In the examples above, there is no evidence for the efficacy of supplements in preventing prostate cancer, and a definite risk in taking zinc. To add to the risk side of the equation, researchers recently published a study in PLoS One on contaminants in Natural Health Products (NHPs) and pharmaceuticals, including supplements. The results were not particularly comforting.

Toxic Element Contamination of Natural Health Products and Pharmaceutical Preparations Stephen J. Genuis, Gerry Schwalfenberg, Anna-Kristen J. Siy1, Ilya Rodushkin

Toxic element contamination was found in many supplements and pharmaceuticals; levels exceeding established limits were only found in a small percentage of the NHPs tested and none of the drugs tested. Some NHPs demonstrated contamination levels above preferred daily endpoints for mercury, cadmium, lead, arsenic or aluminum. NHPs manufactured in China generally had higher levels of mercury and aluminum.

The contaminants in the NHPs are particularly troublesome as they are not subject to rigorous examination by Health Canada or other regulatory bodies.

In conclusion, you have a choice. You can visit your local naturopath and follow her recommendations. You can save time and purchase those products right outside her office door, and keep all the profits under one roof. Conversely, you can follow the best advice established by modern medicine and live a healthy lifestyle based upon diet and exercise. A lifestyle that will help avoid cardiac events, numerous cancers, and type II diabetes, and doesn’t require buying anything other than more vegetables. You might even lose some weight while you’re at it.

5 Responses to “Naturopathy and Prostate Cancer”

  1. naturocrit says:

    Nice post.

    January 01 2013 I’m going to post about the “Textbook of Natural Medicine” 4th edition. Yes, foolishly, I paid $200 for it (U.S.).

    But, oh what a gift that keeps on giving!

    Truly, the ND crowd has quadrupled-down on their nonsensical premises.

    And so I invoke my typical observation:

    licensed falsehood marches on.

    Ka-ching ($$$$$$$$$$$$$$).


  2. David Grant says:

    I agree with John and other writers on this post who criticism of naturopathy and other forms of alternative medicine. While I agree with the proponents that people in the West don’t take very good case of their health and consume way too much sugar, salt and fat(am I no exception here)but when they suggest that it can prevent all diseass is just pure rubbish. The fact that the proponents want the Canadian Health Care System to cover is just mind-boggling. Before we condsider covering psuedo-science, why not cover the purchases of sleep apnea machines instead which show some effect in reducing the risk of high blood pressure and stroke(I have a milder form of sleep apnea and I use it to get a good nights sleep).

  3. Adam Morrison says:

    I just stumbled on the skeptic north site and I’m loving it. The informative articles like this are great.

    If you get the chance a write up on Canada’s own ‘Hemp Oil cures cancer’ nonsense might be worth your time.

    Keept it up!

  4. Adam Morrison says:

    Err… just noticed you’ve got that one covered already. I really need to start going through the older articles!


  1. [...] look at how naturopathy attempts to ‘treat’ prostate cancer – unsurprisingly the advice is at best effective, at worst actively [...]

  • John Underhay

    John Underhay, also known as Peicurmudgeon, is just your average atheist, left leaning, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, biker. He lives on PEI and spends some of his time attempting to point out the flaws and or dangers in promoting ideas that run contrary to the laws of physics, chemistry, or biology. He has a BSc (Biology) and an MSc (Pharmacology) from the University of Prince Edward Island, and is currently retired. You can read more of his posts at