Prostate cancer is now the most common cancer diagnosed in men in the UK. Every year over 30,000 men are diagnosed and 10,000 men die from it.
This cancer is malignant and uncontrolled growth of cells in the prostate, a small gland located between the bladder and the penis. Compared to other types of cancer, prostate cancer is usually slow growing and dependent on testosterone to grow.
Several recent research studies show that pomegranate juice may help to slow down the progress of prostate cancer. There are many substances in pomegranate juice that may be prompting this response.
Pomegranates contain a cocktail of chemicals that minimise cell damage, and potentially kill off cancer cells. They also contain isoflavones which are believed to play a role in cancer cell death (apoptosis).
Pomegranate juice is known to have anti-inflammatory effects and high levels of anti-oxidants, which are believed to protect the body from damage by particles called free radicals. Tests on mice showed the juice dramatically slowed down prostate cancer cell growth.
Pomegranates are native to the Middle East and are thought to be packed with healthy anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
A study reported by the University of Wisconsin appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Previous research has shown pomegranate extract is effective against tumours in mouse skin. Scientists in Israel have also shown that drinking a daily glass of the fruit's juice can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The Wisconsin team first tested the juice on laboratory cultures of human prostate cancer cells. They found the extract killed the cancer cells – and the higher the dose, the more cells died. Next the team injected mice with human prostate cancer cells. One group was given pure water, and two others received water supplemented with 0.1% or 0.2% pomegranate juice. Cancer progression was significantly slowed in mice receiving the higher pomegranate dose. Their blood contained decreased levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a marker commonly used to monitor prostate cancer. In comparison, tumours grew much faster in animals that were given only water. There is good reason now to test this fruit in humans, both for cancer prevention and treatment.
Another study, by the University of California in Los Angeles, appears in the journal Clinical Cancer Research. They found that drinking a daily eight ounce glass of pomegranate juice can significantly slow the progress of prostate cancer. The researchers believe the effect may be so large that it may help older men outlive the disease.
The UCLA team focused on 50 men who had undergone surgery or radiation treatment for prostate cancer – but had shown signs that the disease was rapidly returning.
The presence of prostate cancer cells was monitored by measuring levels of a chemical they produce called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). The researchers measured how long it took for PSA levels to double in individual patients – a short doubling time indicates that the cancer is progressing quickly. The average doubling time is about 15 months, but in patients who drank pomegranate juice this increased to an average of 54 months. Some men on the study continued to show suppressed PSA levels after more than three years, even though they were receiving no treatment apart from drinking pomegranate juice.
In older men 65 to 70 who have been treated for prostate cancer, they can now take pomegranate juice and it may be possible for them to outlive their risk of dying from their cancer. The doctors went on to say that:
"We are hoping we may be able to prevent or delay the need for other therapies usually used in this population such as hormone treatment or chemotherapy, both of which bring with them harmful side effects."
Dr Laura-Jane Armstrong, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said:
"If the results of this study can be confirmed, it could have important implications for prostate cancer patients, especially by delaying the use of other more aggressive treatments that can have debilitating side effects."
These useful research studies demonstrate that pomegranate juice may well benefit both men who may get prostate cancer and those who already have it. While it's still too early to know what, if anything, the science will tell us about potential effects in men, it is not too soon to point out that diet is plainly significant in the development of prostate cancer.
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