By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
OK men, listen up! Sex is good for your prostate. That’s not a moral judgement. It’s a medical one – at least according to a new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
For years, doctors were firmly convinced that frequent ejaculation increased a man’s risk for prostate cancer. But new research from Harvard and the National Cancer Institute promptly turned that old adage on its head when it found that ejaculating may actually help protect the prostate.
In fact, men who ejaculated most often actually had a 33 percent lower lifetime risk of prostate cancer, and this relationship just grew stronger as men grew older!
Protection or Panacea?
The study involved nearly 30,000 men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1992 to 2000. When the study began, the subjects, who were predominantly white and at least 46 years old, were surveyed about their ejaculation frequency from ages 20-to-29 years, 40-to-49 years, and during the last year.
In general, the researchers found no association between ejaculation frequency and prostate cancer risk. However, men who averaged 21 or more ejaculations per month over their lifetime were 33 percent less likely to develop cancer than men with four to seven ejaculations per month.
This is a complete reversal of the long held belief that frequent ejaculations were a contributing risk factor for the disease. Most of the earlier studies looking at the ejaculation-prostate cancer link involved men who were asked about ejaculation only after they'd developed cancer. In contrast, this study involved a stronger "prospective" design, in which men were asked about ejaculation first and then followed for several years to see who developed cancer.
Another problem with the previous research was that it was based on the fact that testosterone fueled not only sex drive, but also the growth of prostate cancer cells. So, in their infinite wisdom, science came to the conclusion that very sexually active men had a higher risk of prostate cancer because they had higher testosterone levels. Never mind that there wasn’t a solid basis for this belief. Or that testosterone is a critical hormone that helps maintain muscle mass and protects cognitive function and memory.
But the Harvard researchers took a different approach. They theorized that ejaculation may protect the prostate by flushing cancer-causing chemicals out of the prostate. Frequent ejaculation may also help prevent the development of mini-crystals that can block ducts within the prostate gland, reducing cancer risk.
The Fine Print
Naturally, the news of this study was the lead health story on every major network. But before you start planning your evening, there are a few things to consider.
First, the findings are preliminary. The men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer during the study appeared to have a higher risk of developing advanced prostate cancer, but the researchers say the numbers were too small to draw any firm conclusions.
And then there’s the fact that the study consisted of mostly middle-aged white men. Without more research, it’s hard to say what effect frequency of ejaculation has on other ethnicities, particularly African-American men who tend to have a higher risk of developing the disease.
Although the Harvard team says that it's reasonable to believe that a "use it or lose it" principle may apply to overall prostate health, it’s hardly the only thing you can do to protect yourself from prostate cancer.
A few years ago, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggested that vitamin E may reduce the risk of advanced prostate cancer. The prospective, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial studied 29,133 men, ages 50 to 69. The subjects received either vitamin E (50 IU daily), beta-carotene (20 mg. daily), both supplements together or a placebo. The treatments were continued for five to eight years.
Combined, the two groups receiving vitamin E developed 32 percent fewer prostate cancers than the two groups that did not receive it. They also had a 40 percent reduction in the risk of developing advanced cancer and their mortality from prostate cancer was 41 percent lower. Although vitamin E didn’t affect how long the subjects would survive advanced cancer once it had developed, these results suggest that it may help prevent prostate cancer from moving from the dormant to the progressive stage.
Selenium may also help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. In one Harvard study of 51,529 male health professionals, researchers found that those with the highest selenium levels were the least likely to develop advanced prostate cancer. And here’s an added bonus – vitamin E enhances selenium’s anti-tumor and antioxidant properties.
Herbs can also play a significant role in prostate health. One of the best is saw palmetto, mainly because it works on two fronts. First, the herb inhibits the formation of dihydrotestosterone (a harmful derivative of testosterone), a hormone that stimulates prostate growth. But its impact on prostate health doesn’t stop there. According to a study in the journal Cell Biology International, saw palmetto also causes prostate cancer cells to commit suicide.
One Last Thing . . .
While prostate cancer grabs most of the headlines, there’s a much more common problem that can affect the prostate. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or prostate enlargement, while not cancerous, can be a real nuisance and may lead to urinary tract problems.
Along with cancer protection, saw palmetto has been clinically shown to decrease the frequency of urination at night, and to decrease pain during elimination. However, saw palmetto doesn’t reduce the swelling or the size of the prostate gland. That’s why it should always be combined with another herb – pygeum.
The French have known about pygeum for years. In fact, doctors in France often rely exclusively on the herb to treat their patients suffering from BPH. The reason is simple: Clinical studies support the fact that pygeum is just as effective as the drugs commonly used in the United States — Proscar and Hytrin — without the side effects (like dizziness, fatigue, decreased libido and impotence).
American researchers are beginning to take a serious look at pygeum’s ability to treat BPH. In one study, investigators from the Minneapolis VA Center reviewed 18 randomized controlled trials involving 1,562 men and found that those using pygeum were more than twice as likely to report improvement in overall symptoms. What’s more, middle-of-the-night bathroom trips were reduced by 19 percent and urine flow was increased by 23 percent.
Other studies have discovered that pygeum’s natural anti-inflammatory properties help reduce prostate size and clear urethral obstructions. The herb also increases the integrity of small veins and capillaries (which also helps reduce swelling). And it inhibits the absorption of the abnormally high levels of cholesterol associated with BPH.
Since half of all men over the age of 50 develop BPH, European’s start taking saw palmetto in their mid-30s to early 40s. And 81 percent of those afflicted rely on pygeum to treat BPH. While both herbs are incredibly safe, check with your doctor if you are already taking alpha-adrenergic blockers or finasteride for an enlarged prostate.
This Just In . . .
Got asthma? Get C – vitamin C, that is. During a two-year study, researchers at the Children's Hospital & Research Center came to the conclusion that vitamin C is an important component in the treatment of asthma, cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive lung disease. In fact, the vitamin may even help alleviate the dry cough suffered by smokers.
The researchers tested vitamin C on the function of a cell protein called the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR), which regulates the secretion of fluids in the respiratory tract. Vitamin C triggered the secretion of fluids and supported normal hydration. The result? Easier breathing.
The researchers also noted that a vitamin C deficiency may lead to dry, sticky mucus membranes lining the airway. So if you suffer from asthma, sinus problems or other respiratory ailments, try boosting you intake of vitamin C. It just may give you the breathing space you’ve been looking for.
Chatelain C, et al. “Comparison of once and twice daily dosage forms of Pygeum africanum extract in patients with benign prostatic hyperplasia: a randomized, double-blind study, with long-term open label extension.” Urology 1999;54:473–478.
Fischer H, et al. “Vitamin C controls the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator chloride channel.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2004;101:3691-3696.
Goldman WH, et al. “Saw palmetto berry extract inhibits cell growth an dCox-2 expression in prostatic cancer cells.” Cell Biology International. 2001; 25:1117-1124.
Leitzmann MF, et al. “Ejaculation Frequency and Subsequent Risk of Prostate Cancer.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 2004;291:1578-1586.