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New Studies Challege What You Thought You Knew about Prostate Cancer
Two new studies have come out in 2014 that challenge the previously-held beliefs about prostate cancer. One study shows that low, not high, levels of testosterone may be worse for the severity of prostate cancer, and the other shows an alarming trend in plummeting testosterone levels in the United States. Read more below.
The world of prostate cancer research has gone on for many decades. For years, scientists thought that high levels of testosterone in the body led to an increased risk for developing prostate cancer, among other factors. However, two new incredibly interesting studies have come out in 2014 regarding the connection between testosterone, phthalates, and prostate cancer that challenge that long-held belief.
Rather than high testosterone levels leading to an increased risk for prostate cancer, these studies indicate the opposite- that low testosterone levels lead to the development of more aggressive forms of cancer that more often lead to the spread of the disease. Read more about these new studies below.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are several risk factors for developing prostate cancer or BPH (the non-cancerous form of prostate enlargement). Some of these risk factors, such as age, race, and genetics, are not preventable, but others are preventable. According to the ACS, the biggest preventable risks for developing prostate cancer include:
Obesity is a risk factor for developing prostate cancer, but researchers are not sure why. It could be simply that leading an unhealthy lifestyle puts a man at a higher risk for developing any kind of cancer since the body is lower in the vitamins and minerals to grow healthy cells.
Although past studies showed that high free testosterone levels were linked to an increase in prostate cancer risk, new studies are showing the opposite result. Now some scientists believe that it is low testosterone levels that lead to an increase in prostate cancer risk. And that when prostate cancer does arrive, the cancer spread is greater and more aggressive. More on this new discovery below.
Some studies link high levels of the insulin growth hormone, IGF-I, with an increase in cancer risk. It is possible that IGF-1 is a hormone that can contribute to the growth and spread of cancer cells in certain situations. Learn more about this curious connection later on in the article.
Some studies link greater total inflammation in the body with an increase in prostate cancer risk. It is not known how inflammation relates to the development of cancer, except perhaps that inflamed cells are less likely to produce healthy reproductions. Inflammation is a sign of stress and trouble in the body, and usually occurs when a person is under extreme stress or has eaten unhealthy foods for extended periods.
Prostatitis is an infection of the bladder which causes urinary tract infections in men. According to research from the American Cancer Society, men who have frequent bladder infections are at a higher risk for developing prostate cancer. However, some researchers believe this factor may not actually be a precursor to prostate cancer, just that men with prostatitis are more likely to be screened for prostate cancer-which may go undetected in men who show no symptoms.
Typically, high levels of free testosterone are considered risk factors for the development of prostate cancer. Prostate cancer was thought to be caused mainly by the overabundance of DHT (a converted form of testosterone that causes prostate growth during puberty) in the body. DHT is converted testosterone, and is also associated with male hair loss.
Some studies linked testosterone replacement therapies with an increased risk for prostate cancer. However, recent studies have shown the opposite result. In fact, it may be too low levels of testosterone and DHT that lead to the development of prostate cancer, or at least, to the development of the most dangerous, aggressive forms of prostate cancer.
Ordinarily, it is rare for a case of prostate cancer to be life-threatening. The SEER research foundation reports that nearly 99 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer live for at least 5 years beyond their diagnosis date. As a comparison, only 65 percent of patients diagnosed with colon cancer survive the 5 years after diagnosis.
Recent studies have indicated that men who get prostate cancer with low levels of testosterone or DHT are more likely to have severe symptoms and an increased risk of death.
A 2014 study published in BJU International found that of 154 men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer, men who had the lowest levels of free testosterone were more likely to have an aggressive spread of the disease than men with higher free testosterone levels. This study took place over a period of 38 months.
Other studies have also supported the low testosterone-increased prostate cancer risk theory.
Another concern recently raised in the world of men’s health is the possible testosterone-lowering effects of plastic phthalates. In 2014, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism examined the role phthalates play in the testosterone levels of boys and men. The researchers wanted to examine the role of phthalates, because over the past 50 years, testosterone levels have dropped dramatically in all people, but particularly in males.
Many of today’s males often have a variety of sexual health issues, including reduced semen quality and genital malformations in newborn boys. Previous animal studies showed that plastic phthalates play a large role in the endocrine disruption in males, leading to the blockage of usable testosterone and lower testosterone levels in general.
The researchers looked at over 2,200 people and their phthalate exposure and testosterone levels over a period of one year. The researchers found that circulating and free testosterone levels were the lowest in individuals with the highest amount of exposure to 13 common phthalates. Two age groups were particularly at risk- boys aged 6 to 12 and adults aged 40 to 60.
Study author, John D. Meeker, MS, ScD, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health wrote in the study:
"This may have important public health implications, since low testosterone levels in young boys can negatively impact reproductive development, and in middle age can impair sexual function, libido, energy, cognitive function and bone health in men and women."
Women aged 40 to 60 had up to a 24 percent drop in testosterone levels when they were exposed to high levels of phthalates. Boys aged 6 to 12 had a drop in testosterone up to 34.1 percent when exposed to high levels of phthalates.
"While the study's cross-sectional design limit the conclusions we can draw, our results support the hypothesis that environmental exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates could be contributing to the trend of declining testosterone and related disorders," the study authors reported. "With mounting evidence for adverse health effects, individuals and policymakers alike may want to take steps to limit human exposure to the degree possible."
In addition to dropping hormone levels, a study from Denmark in 2010 found that boys who had high levels of urinary phthalate metabolites also had increased levels of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), which is another risk factor for developing prostate cancer. The Denmark study also found that phthalates interfere with thyroid function in males and females.
According to the Center for Disease Control, phthalates are a group of chemicals added to plastic products to make them more flexible and harder to break. They are also used as solvents in many personal care and cleaning products. The CDC reports that there are 13 commonly-used phthalates used in modern products. These include:
All phthalates contain the word “phthalate” in the label, which make them easy to identify. You can fine phthalates in vinyl products, glue, detergent, lubricating products, automotive plastic, plastic clothing, shower curtains, hair spray, soap, shampoo, nail polish, and hundreds of other products.
According to a 2004 CDC study, United States citizens have “measurable levels of many phthalate metabolites.” Since few studies have been conducted on the full risk factors of these ingredients, the only way to avoid them currently is to actively avoid purchasing any product with phthalates. While food and body care products state their ingredients, many plastic products do not. However, if a product contains plastic that is flexible, it is almost guaranteed to contain phthalates.
Although currently there is no direct link between prostate cancer and phthalates, recent studies show that the presence of phthalates in the male body can drop testosterone levels and increase the production of IGF-I, which are both risk factors for prostate cancer.
The American Cancer Society also lists obesity as a risk factor for developing prostate cancer, and phthalates interfere with effective thyroid function, leading to weight gain. According to these studies, just about the worst possible thing you can do for your risk of developing prostate cancer is to surround yourself with phthalates.
Avoiding phthalates is not easy. They are everywhere in the world. The CDC reports that the highest concentration of phthalates in the body comes from the consumption of phthalates. These occur mainly in plastic products and personal care products. When shopping for personal care products and cleaning supplies, look for ingredient labels that state that the product does not contain phthalates.
For plastic items, try to avoid storing food and drinking water in flexible plastic containers. Never microwave plastic items or leave them in a hot car. While it is almost impossible to avoid all plastic entirely, you can greatly reduce your consumption by taking care to avoid those two sources of plastic.
In addition to phthalates and low testosterone levels, the American Cancer Association lists genetics, obesity, age, smoking, and diet as risk factors for developing prostate cancer. There is nothing that can be done about age or genetic-related factors, but it is possible to reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet.
A diet full of minimally-processed foods, rich in vegetables, fruits, protein, and healthy fats will optimize the hormones in the body and prevent obesity. Mainly avoiding items like large quantities of sugar and unhealthy fats like vegetable oil, trans fats, and oxidized oils will go a long way toward improving your overall health. Several scientific studies link a few specific herbs and supplements with an improvement in prostate cancer symptoms.
For instance, a study from 2005 conducted by the University Clinics of Brussels found that supplementing with saw palmetto was able to improve BPH (enlargement of the prostate that is not cancer-related) symptoms like painful urination and urgency. A study from the Institute of Urology in 2005 found that saw palmetto was also able to inhibit growth factors, such as IGF-I. According to CNCA Health, a variety of other herbs are also effective at reducing prostate symptoms, including:
According to a study from 1998, men who suffer from BPH symptoms or prostate cancer can benefit from an active lifestyle. The study researchers found that men who walked the most had a decreased risk for developing or worsening BPH symptoms. The study found that men who walk two or three hours a week have a 25 percent lower risk of developing BPH.
Although the new studies indicate a different result that previous studies, more study is necessary to prove once and for all which is more dangerous- extremely high testosterone or extremely low testosterone. Likely, as is the case with most things, moderation is the key to optimal health. Both men who have unusually low or unusually high testosterone levels may be at risk for developing prostate cancer, but the new studies show that low testosterone levels leads to a more dangerous form of cancer.
By supplementing with herbs, exercising regularly, cleaning up the diet, and avoiding phthalates, a man can reduce his risk of developing prostate cancer or suffering from other prostate-related issues as he ages.
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Avistate is a supplement for prostate health that can help reduce urinary tract symptoms (like frequent and painful urination, hesitancy, and urgency) while limiting unwanted sexual side effects.