Plants and Prostate: More Than Just Alliteration
Prostate. There, I said it. Though you may prefer calling it the tubuloalveolar exocrine gland of the male reproductive system. Whatever makes you comfortable. This terrific little gland plays an important role in both the propagation of the species and, later in life, your doctor’s mortgage payment. Yes, in a man’s Autumn Years, and after a lifetime of service, the prostate gland tends to head south in a jiffy, either enlarging in a benign but irritating way, or gathering cancer cells like a magnet. The fact is, 1 man in 7 will contract some form of prostate cancer in his lifetime. The in-office “digital check” for outward signs of a troubled prostate is one of the less pleasant indignities of the yearly doctor visit, but the alternative is worse by far. Is there a way to keep the prostate healthy, even as the actuarial tables tempt it to failure?
Plant matter has been shown in clinical trials to have a notable effect on prostate health, and a measurable pushback on the recurrence of prostate cancers after treatment. Of course you have to eat the plant matter to get this benefit; simply walking through a garden won’t do the trick (as far as we know). What is it about a plant-based diet that has such a striking effect on this particularly worrisome and statistically bullying form of cancer? The key appears to be the flavenoids that occur naturally in plants.
Flavenoids: don’t bug me, man!
Flavenoids are a secondary metabolite in plants; meaning they are not fundamental to a plant being alive, but are central to the plant’s reproductive acumen and ability to ward off herbivores. In the fossil record there are 145 million year-old leaf imprints that show the effect of having been preyed upon by ancient bugs. So the “herbivore problem” has annoyed plants for quite a little while. Over the busy eons, plants evolved flavenoids to help beat back these insectoid plant eaters, as well as birds and mammals, by making non-essential parts of the plant more attractively edible, by increasing and calibrating flower coloration in order to attract pollinators (the plant’s insect friends), and by warding off bacteria that lounge around in the dirt waiting for a chance to munch on the roots. So flavenoids are designed by nature to vex plant-eaters of all kinds—yet they are recommended to human plant-eaters as part of a prostate-protecting diet. Ironic? You bet. How does it work?
The French Riviera of Diets
The much-ballyhooed Mediterranean Diet has received a lot of press for its statistical success in holding cancer at bay in those geographical populations. What gives? Here’s what; those folks eat a lot of plants, and the phytochemicals in all that veggie-eating offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that do a Mediterranean body good. But you don’t need to pay exorbitant room rates in the South of France to get the benefits of flavenoids. Herbs, fruits and vegetables, green tea, apples, legumes…researchers have discovered around 4000 different flavenoids (and counting) in the plant kingdom. Like other antioxidants, flavenoids are your cellular bodyguards, pulling damage-causing free radicals off your cell’s back, and ganging up on troublemaking toxic metallic ions, both of which are associated with prostate and other cancers. Flavenoids have even been shown to help with memory and lift the mood, and to mitigate heart disease.
So; Flavenoids! It might seem counter-intuitive to think that internal medicine developed by plants to ward off beetles can also help your prostate. But that’s where we are. Hey, it’s all about Nature giving us organic pointed sticks for jabbing the bad guys. Next time you’re enjoying a cup of aromatic green tea, raise your cup in a toast to our patient plant friends, and the 145 million years they spent carefully developing these life-giving edible meds. Plants, animals; we’re all in this together. But you knew that.