About 10 years ago, I came across a study that completely changed the way I treat prostate cancer. The first time I read this study, it just blew my mind. This study was so novel, so well done, it thoroughly impressed me. And, furthermore, it tied in perfectly with the existing evidence.
This incredible study shows how a common and inexpensive nutrient, one that quite frankly I had not taken seriously enough, might be a major way to not only prevent prostate cancer, but to treat it as well. When you hear the details of this remarkable study, you will see what I mean.
The nutrient that changed my prostate cancer treatment is one you’ve heard of before. I talk about it a lot. It’s a red colored phytochemical (plant chemical) found in tomatoes, watermelons, grapefruits, apricots, red peppers, and carrots. But the food with the highest concentration probably is somewhat surprising – ketchup.
So what is this nutrient? It’s lycopene.
A number of epidemiological studies have shown that the more lycopene men eat, the less likely they are to get prostate cancer. Other studies have shown that among men who get prostate cancer, the ones with the highest blood levels of lycopene have the least aggressive cancers, and live the longest.
When people eat lycopene, it tends to concentrate in three specific organs: the liver, adrenal glands, and (for men) the prostate. This new study shows that in the prostate gland, lycopene has a determining effect on whether or not the organ develops clinical cancer.
The researchers conducted this study in three different parts. In the first part, they used a line of cells called LnCaP cells. These are human prostate cancer cells that are “hormone sensitive.” That means that when they are exposed to the hormone testosterone, they grow more rapidly.
Hormone sensitive prostate cancer is the most common kind. They grew these LnCaP cells in different cultures. And in each culture they added increasing amounts of lycopene. Here’s what they found.
As the amounts of lycopene in the cultures increased, the growth of the cells correspondingly decreased. In fact, the highest dose of lycopene, 15 micromoles per liter, inhibited cell growth by 13.6%. So now they had scientific evidence that backs up what the epidemiological studies have shown – lycopene does indeed slow down prostate cancer growth. And since they didn’t add any testosterone to the cultures, this inhibition was independent of any effect it might have on testosterone sensitivity.
But the researchers didn’t stop there. Now they wanted to know if lycopene also had a separate effect on hormone sensitivity. So they conducted the second part of the study.
To determine this the team looked at the effect that lycopene had on the testosterone receptors on the LnCaP cells. It is through the testosterone receptors that testosterone stimulates these cells to grow so rapidly.
The researchers thought that if lycopene decreased the ability of the cells to make (in scientific terms, up regulate or express) these receptors, then that would demonstrate that lycopene does indeed decrease hormone sensitivity. But that’s not all — it also would show how it did it.
What they found next was so astounding that I’m sure it even surprised the researchers.
The Testosterone Connection
As the team increased the amount of lycopene they gave to the cells, the ability of the cells to make the testosterone receptors decreased. And the highest concentration of lycopene completely inhibited cell receptor production! That’s right. When the team reached the 15 micromoles per liter concentration, none of the cells expressed any testosterone receptors at all. Lycopene effectively takes testosterone out of the prostate cancer equation.
This obviously is very impressive. They now had evidence that lycopene directly reduced the rate at which prostate cancer cells grow. And they also had proof that it was able to completely block the growth stimulating effects of testosterone.
But all of these effects were in test tubes. Could the same kind of thing actually happen in patients? The team answered this question in the third part of their study.
They started the third phase by recruiting 37 men. They had an average age of 73, with the youngest being 60 and the oldest 86. Each of them had prostate cancer with a Gleason score of six. This means that a pathologist had determined that these cancers were mildly aggressive. Their PSA readings were between 14 and 31, with an average of 23 ng/ml. In all cases, the cancer was found only in the prostate gland.
Although all of the men had been diagnosed with a prostate biopsy, none of them had received any treatment for their cancer. Their doctors were just watching them (since prostate cancers usually grow very slowly, this is the normal course of action for most doctors). None of the participants took any supplements that contained lycopene, vitamin C, flavonoids, or beta-carotene.
During the study, the researchers gave these men a supplement every day. This supplement contained lycopene (10 mg), vitamin C (200 mg), vitamin E (2.5 mg), phytoene and phytofluene (1.66 mg), and beta-carotene (0.42 mg). Phytoene and phytofluene are in the carotene family of phytochemicals. They serve as the precursors to the formation of lycopene. Tomatoes have high amounts of these phytochemicals. This is the only treatment the men received.
For the next seven months, the researchers examined the men and checked their PSAs every month. None of them had any side effects from the treatment. Here are the results.
Six of the men, only 16%, saw their cancers progress and went on to other forms of therapy. The supplement did not work in this group.
However, 70% of the men had a significantly reduced PSA velocity. They improved enough to consider them clinically stable. This means that the growth rate of their cancers was slowing down to the point that there was no need for more therapy. But here’s the really great part of the study.
Of the 37 men, 21% of them saw their PSAs declining. This means that in these men, the treatment was actually causing their cancers to slowly disappear. This is amazing! You can decrease cancer growth simply by taking a nutritional supplement. Most urologists wouldn’t believe this. But the study proved it.
So What Does This Study Mean to You and Me?
First of all, in terms of prevention, I think it would be smart for all men over the age of 50 to start increasing their lycopene levels.
They can do this by increasing the intake of the foods highest in lycopene, especially tomatoes. I also recommend taking a supplement containing at least 5-10 mg of lycopene per day. Men with a family history of prostate cancer should probably do this starting at age 40.
How about men who already have prostate cancer? Of course, every case is different. So, as we saw in the study, not every case will respond to lycopene. But for many men, this study shows that if they have a mildly aggressive cancer, one with a Gleason score of six or less, it is reasonable to start taking lycopene at a dose of 10-20 mg per day. Work with your doctor to follow your PSA levels every three months for the next 12 months. If the levels are falling, the lycopene treatment may be all you need to do.
There’s another time when taking lycopene would be an especially attractive natural alternative. That is for men who have prostate cancer and their doctor has told them to either do nothing, or to have hormonal blockade therapy.
Why? Because this study shows that not only does lycopene have a direct toxic effect on prostate cancer cells, it also serves as a natural form of hormonal blockade therapy. And better yet, it does so without all of the significant side effects of the drugs.
The best way to get lycopene is by eating cooked tomato products. Cooking tomatoes really brings out the lycopene. That’s why ketchup has so much lycopene in it. So feel free to eat as much salsa and other forms of cooked tomatoes (watch out for ketchup because of the sugar content). But if you can’t get enough this way, then I strongly recommend you take a lycopene supplement, such as Lyc-O-Mato, daily. You need at least 20 mg of lycopene daily, but you can take more than that, up to 30 mg.
Zhang, X., Q. Wang, B. Neil, and X. Chen. “Effect of lycopene on androgen receptor and prostate-specific antigen velocity.” Chin Med J (Engl). 2010 August;123(16):2231-6.