Many of my patients ask me about natural ways to fight prostate cancer. Some of them have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and are looking for ways to control it. Others are at risk for prostate cancer and are searching for ways to prevent it. Either way, they are all hoping for a solution that is natural and has minimal side effects. Believe it or not, one such solution is the pomegranate. Yes, the funny looking red fruit with all of its little seeds may very well be a prostate cancer wonder drug.
The medicinal properties of pomegranates were described in ancient times. Recently, the true benefits of the fruit have been discovered to come from flavonoids found in high concentrations within them. Flavonoids have also been found in high quantities in both wine and green tea. The main benefit of this compound is its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Numerous studies have demonstrated that antioxidants can play an important role in cancer treatment and prevention. With their high concentration of flavonoids, pomegranates have demonstrated significant effects on numerous malignancies including lung, breast, colon cancer. Some of the most dramatic effects of pomegranates have been demonstrated against prostate cancer.
Studies have evaluated the efficacy of pomegranates in fighting prostate cancer in cell cultures, animal models and humans. The most basic of these studies incubated prostate cancer cells with various concentrations of pomegranate extracts to see the effects on the growth of the cells. These studies demonstrated that the pomegranate kept the prostate cancer cells in suspended animation, preventing them from multiplying. This effect was demonstrated on both moderate and highly aggressive, hormone resistant prostate cancer cells. These studies also demonstrated that the pomegranate extract also decreased the propensity of these aggressive cancer cells to invade and spread to adjoining tissues and areas.
Inspired by the very encouraging results from these basic studies, another set of experiments demonstrated the effects of the pomegranate extracts on the growth of prostate cancer cells in mice. In these studies, two groups of mice were inoculated with human prostate cancer cells which were then allowed to grow and form tumors. One group of mice was fed regular water while the other was given water mixed with pomegranate extract at various concentrations. The study demonstrated that the mice given the pomegranate/water mix grew much smaller tumors. This reduction in the size of the prostate cancer tumors grown (as compared to mice drinking regular water) was proportional to the concentration of pomegranate extract within the water. In addition, mice drinking the pomegranate/water mix demonstrated blood PSA levels 70-85% lower than those found in mice drinking plain water. Again, the extent of the decrease was proportional to the concentration of pomegranate extract in the water.
While no large randomized, controlled trials have been conducted to evaluate the effects of pomegranate in a clinical setting, a small study from UCLA demonstrated some very impressive results. This Phase II study evaluated 48 patients with prostate cancer who had a recurrence of cancer after initial therapy with either surgery or radiation. The study determined that these men had a PSA doubling time of 15 months. PSA doubling time is an indicator of how aggressive the cancer is and how quickly it spreads. The lower the number of months to double the PSA, the more aggressive the cancer turns out to be. All of these men were given 8 ounces of pomegranate juice over a 2 year period. The study found that the PSA doubling time increased to 54 months with the pomegranate juice as opposed to 15 months demonstrated prior to the treatment. Through this amazing finding, the study demonstrated that pomegranate can actually slow the spread of prostate cancer in humans! Although the study was limited by its small patient numbers and lack of a control group (a group of patients who were followed but not given treatment), it demonstrated a significant benefit of pomegranate that cannot be ignored.
So what do we take from these very impressive studies? Should a good daily helping of pomegranate juice replace surgery, radiation, or other accepted therapies for prostate cancer. Of course not! While these studies are very impressive, they do not show that pomegranates can CURE prostate cancer. Instead, they demonstrate that pomegranates MAY decrease the growth of prostate cancer. However, because pomegranates are natural fruits without any significant side effects, they should be strongly considered as a great ADJUNCT to any normally accepted treatment for prostate cancer. The pomegranates may work synergistically with surgery or radiation to improve outcomes for patients with prostate cancer. In addition, patients at risk for prostate cancer may want to consider pomegranates as a preventative measure.
As I always tell my patients, medicine almost never offers a free lunch. Any treatment you chose has its own side effects to tolerate. Pomegranates offer as close to a free lunch as you can get. Aside from causing some loose stools in some patients, pomegranates are a safe, natural way to battle prostate cancer. I look forward to more studies evaluating this very promising fruit!
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