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Jewish World Review
Ask the Harvard Experts: Prostate Supplements of Dubious Value
Robert Shmerling, M.D.
Don't be fooled. What to actually do to stay healthy
Q: Are prostate supplements helpful?
A: In general, the answer is no.
Despite the number of vitamins and supplements that claim to promote prostate health, there is little proof to support their use.
They don't help prostate cancer, prostatitis (inflammation and infection of the prostate), or benign enlargement of the prostate gland. In fact, when many of the popular supplements, such as saw palmetto, have been tested, the results have shown no benefit.
Popular remedies that have been promoted for prostate health include: zinc supplements, Vitamin E, selenium, soy, and some general herbal remedies that are supposed to decrease the rate of cancer, help with urination and promote sexual health.
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None of these have any scientific support. And actual harm has been associated with selenium and vitamin E. Zinc supplements may actually increase the risk of cancer.
The one vitamin supplement that is helpful is vitamin D. There is evidence that this vitamin has many positive effects, including the possibility that it can reduce the risk of prostate cancer. (Generally, you need 400 to 1,000 units per day of vitamin D.)
Because of these reasons, the general advice is to save your money when it comes to taking prostate supplements.
On a more positive note, you can promote prostate health by:
Maintaining a healthy body weight
Increasing physical activity
Eating a diet rich in plant products
Avoiding red meat
Limiting calcium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams per day. Personally, I advise a maximum of 1,000 milligrams daily.
In my opinion, encouraging people to eat fish high in omega 3-fatty acids makes sense because antioxidants are thought to provide a host of benefits, including, perhaps, reducing the risk of cancer. While not proven, eating cooked tomatoes might help keep your prostate healthy. Tomatoes contain lyocopene, which has antioxidant properties.
If you tried one of the supplements and it had a positive effect, I would be encouraged and think you should consider continuing it, even though the data does not support its use in the general population. But you want to be sure that the all the ingredients are safe.
(Marc Garnick, M.D., is an internationally renowned expert in medical oncology and urologic cancer, with a special emphasis on prostate cancer. He is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and maintains an active oncology practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Mass. Dr. Garnick serves as a senior editor at Harvard Health Publications.)
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