Some Sympathy for Londoners
You have my sympathy and my solidarity, London.
A good conversation on the topic of prostate health. Not always a popular topic, but always an important one.
I get asked this a lot. How do they harvest the pollen? If I’m allergic to pollen, can I take this? And anyway, how is this stuff any different from bee pollen?
I’m going to try to settle these questions for everyone who has asked me and for anyone else who may be wondering. First, let me relay some of the clinical data from studies which specifically examined flower pollen’s ability to control BPH. The Provelex site cites this:
One study followed 89 men with BHP for four months and found that the group receiving a flower pollen extract experienced a 78% improvement in their symptoms. Another study followed the occurrences of Noturia (frequent nighttime urination) in 60 men. Over six months, the condition improved or disappeared in 60% of the group taking a flower pollen extract. The group also reported a 57% improvement in bladder emptying. Results like these underscore the power of Swedish Flower Pollen in overall prostate health. Provelex Prostate Treatment offers 400 mg of Swedish Flower Pollen.
These results agree with the results of a smaller study from 1989 which followed 15 patients aged 23 to 63, all of whom had been diagnosed with non-bacterial prostatitis or prostatodynia. The treatments ranged from 1 to 18 months and during that time 7 of the men lost all of their symptoms, 6 had their symptoms improve, and 2 saw no change. While 2 of the men had a relapse once they came off the flower pollen, their symptoms went away once they resumed taking flower pollen.
There are many more studies, although I won’t bore you with them now. In the end, scientists are coming to realize that flower pollen has an important role to play in prostate health, and that’s what matters. After all, it took a long time to get a pollen extract which didn’t involve bees.
Pollen grains are very tough and the human digestive system can’t break them down. They’re made of cellulose and we can’t digest cellulose. Historically, we’ve only been able to get some of the benefit of flower pollen from what the bees left over in honey. But that’s only a fraction of the nutritional value pollen has to offer. In recent years, European scientists have developed a method of harvesting the pollen grains straight from the flower and then fermenting them according to a special process which opens the pollen grains, destroys any toxins, yeasts, or moulds, and leaves the nutrients intact. This is the process which any Swedish flower pollen undergoes.
This process eliminates not only the toxins which inhabit the average pollen grain, but also the allergic qualities. This means that anyone who is allergic should be able to take a flower pollen supplement, but I can’t guarantee anything. I take Swedish flower pollen, but am not allergic to pollen in general, so I don’t know for sure. I can say that any commercial website or supplement manufacturer I’ve spoken to tells me that there is no problem for people with allergies. Overall, this is an exciting thing, since there’s a body of supporting data, but no known side effects. I will watch for new studies and let you know what results come in.
A 1997 study following both men and women over a period of 10 years found that the group given selenium experienced 41 per cent fewer cases of cancer overall than the placebo group. However, that 41 per cent number covers all cancers. Some specific forms of cancer saw a particularly significant reduction in incidence, such as lung, esophageal, colorectal, and especially prostate.
Men in the selenium group saw a whopping 71 per cent fewer cases of prostate cancer than the placebo group. This agrees with another study which compared the blood-selenium levels of 52 men with prostate cancer with those of 96 men without prostate cancer. The 52 men with prostate cancer had supplied blood samples before and after their diagnoses, allowing researchers to conclude that low selenium levels are consistent with a significantly higher risk of prostate cancer.
The reasons for selenium’s role in reducing cancer incidence appear to fall into 2 major areas. First, it is a critical component in at least 2 enzymes which help reduce damage from free radicals. Remember that free radicals are a natural by-product of the body’s own metabolism, and so it is very important to have these enzymes active and plentiful at all times so that they can eliminate mutant oxygen molecules when and where they arise. Second, selenium has a particular kind of chemical property which makes it attract oxygen molecules and render them harmless in the body.
The best dietary source for selenium is reportedly brazil nuts, although meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products often contain useful amounts as well. However, it can be difficult to get enough selenium from dietary sources, since it often depends on the amount of selenium in the soil where food is grown and may be lost in processing. Labels don’t show you how many micrograms of selenium your food contains. Granted, most Americans consume at least 40 micrograms of dietary selenium daily, but the research does appear to suggest that boosting this number with a moderate supplement is advisable. As always, it is good to talk to your doctor, but when looking into supplements directed at reducing cancer risk, or at improving overall men’s health, keep an eye out for selenium.
Once cancer develops, its progression depends on the kind of cancer, how aggressively it develops, and its location in the body. Prostate cancer is often a slow-progressing, non-aggressive cancer which is reluctant to metastasize. It is estimated that the majority of men with prostate cancer never actually know that they have it, since the tumour on the prostate may grow so slowly that he will eventually pass away from a totally unrelated cause. Of course, not all prostate cancers are easy to manage. A CDC fact sheet from 2003 predicted 220,900 new cases and 28,900 deaths from prostate cancer for that year alone.
With that in mind, it becomes clear that anything we can do, as men, to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer, is worth doing. However, it is only worth doing if there is a reason to believe that it will help. This may seem like an obvious point, but in an important sense it is not. For example, many cancer patients every year forgo conventional treatment in favour of an alternative therapy. Some of these unconventional therapies may work (a topic I will explore here in the future), but many more of these therapies fail and leave the patient with an almost certain death sentence. The bottom line is that the alternative therapy will often have no supporting evidence and hence give the patient no real reason to believe that it will work. The only reason to believe that it will work might be the patient’s own desire that it work, and this is no good reason.
Of course, there are many products which do enjoy significant empirical support for their roles in reducing the risk of developping cancer. Green Tea, Selenium, plant pigments like Lycopene or Quercetin, and minerals like Zinc all have a wealth of clinical data which show that they can reduce the risk of cancer. However, it is important to note that these things don’t work unless you take them in moderation over a sustained period of time. Megadoses are not recommended by anyone who has any scientific credibility.
Look at it this way: these are all compounds which occur naturally in a healthy diet, and so your body expects to get them in moderate doses, mixed in with several other nutrients. This is one reason why I tend to advocate compound supplements over dedicated ones. For example, rather than taking a pure Lycopene supplement, look at a proprietary blend like Provelex which contains Lycopene, but also Quercetin, Zinc, and even Selenium.
The reason I use the example of Provelex is that, looking at their website, and going on the company’s reputation as I have heard it, this appears to be a very reputable product. If you are looking for some such product, then I will tell you honestly that I have not heard of a product with a better reputation. This reputation, as well as its particular blend of ingredients, leads me to think that there is good reason to believe that this brand works. However, other brands do exist and you should always feel free to shop around. Just remember that these supplements can be very powerful and that the choice you make can extend or even save your life. Make that choice a good one.
I found this one product which makes some interesting claims and contains one particular ingredient which I haven’t seen before. It’s called diindolylmethane, or DIM for short, and it’s supposed to slow the growth of prostate cancer. Apparently, a study at UC Berkley found that DIM reduces the growth of androgen-dependent prostate cancer cells. An androgen is basically any male hormone, like testosterone for example. Of course, it’s important to realize that not all prostate cancer cells are androgen-dependent. Basically, all that means is that these particular cancer cells need an androgen to grow so, since DIM is an androgen inhibitor, then these cancer cells can’t grow. When I looked at the abstract from the study at UC Berkley, I noticed that they saw no change in androgen-independent cancer cells, so DIM doesn’t exactly cure or stop all prostate cancer.
I have to admit that I do not know what proportion of prostate cancers are androgen-dependent, whether it’s 90%, 50%, 10%. If anyone can tell me, I’ll be very grateful, but in the meantime I’ll continue to look. But there’s another question which occurs to me. Either BPH or prostatitis is almost inevitable. Most men will eventually get one, the other, or both. Prostate cancer is nothing like that. I mean we’re talking about cancer here! Why would I take a supplement to treat cancer unless I actually have cancer? And why would I take a supplement to treat a special kind of cancer unless I know that I have cancer at all?
Let me give you an example. Anti-oxidants are big news; everyone knows that they help to prevent cancer. The way they help prevent cancer is by eliminating mutant “free radical” oxygen molecules which damage cells. But if you take too many antioxidants, they can actually become free radicals themselves, and so you’ve just made things worse. Now, I can’t find anything that says that a lot of DIM can be harmful, but remember that this is all really new research. COX-2 inhibitors were supposed to be safe, but we all know what happened with Vioxx. So I’ll hold off on my judgement for now.
It is worth noting that something called 13C, which is a precursor of DIM, does carry some risks. 13C becomes DIM in the body, and too much of it can cause toxicity and general bad news. There are a number of other compounds like 13C which are like DIM but don’t have the same support from scientific studies and carry possible side-effects. But remember that you get DIM in your diet from foods like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. So just eat your vegetables. You know that you should anyway, and who doesn’t love a side of cole slaw?