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Flaxseeds for Prostate Cancer

October 3, 2013 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 9 Comments

Flaxseeds for Prostate Cancer

 Why is there such a huge disparity in prostate cancer rates around the world? The incidence of malignant prostate cancer is highest in African Americans, some 30 times greater than in Japanese men, and 120 times greater than in Chinese men. The conventional thinking is that this may be due to the higher intake of animal fat and protein in the Western diet, but it could also be the protective phytoestrogens found in plant foods. There are two major types of phytoestrogens: soy isoflavones and lignans.

Researchers have found higher levels of lignans in the prostate fluids of men in countries with relatively low rates of prostate cancer and in vitro studies show lignans can slow the growth of prostate cancer cells in a petri dish, so a pilot study was performed on flaxseed supplementation in men with prostate cancer. Why flaxseeds? Because while lignans are found throughout the plant kingdom, flax has up to 800 times more than any other food.

The research team took a bunch of men with prostate cancer, about a month before they were scheduled for surgery to get their prostates removed, and put them on a relatively low fat diet with three tablespoons a day of ground flax. Though the scientists were skeptical that they would observe any differences in tumor biology in the diet-treated patients in such a short time span, they found significantly lower cancer proliferation rates and significantly higher rates of cancer cell death. That was compared to so-called “historical controls,” meaning compared to the kind of growth one typically sees in their situation, not to an actual randomized control group. A few years later, though, a controlled study was published.

Researchers enrolled men who recently had their prostates biopsied and were scheduled to have repeat biopsies in six months. Then they did the same thing as the previous study: they reduced the fat in their diet and put them on ground flaxseeds to see if it made their repeat biopsy look any different. These were men with what’s called PIN (prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia), which is like the prostate equivalent of ductal carcinoma in situ in the breast. That’s why they were getting repeat biopsies–to make sure it wasn’t spreading.

There hadn’t been much research on this kind of prostatic hyperplasia, with only four epidemiologic studies reported at the time. They yielded varying findings, with increased risk associated with higher energy, protein, and animal product intake, and decreased risk related to the consumption of alcohol, fruit, and green and yellow vegetables—in sum, a low-fat, plant-based diet, high in phytoestrogens. The researchers wanted to know if that kind of diet could be used to treat it too.

Watch my 4-min video Flaxseed vs. Prostate Cancer to see what they found. Study subjects experienced a significant drop in PSA levels (a biomarker of prostate cell growth), a drop in cholesterol (what one would expect with a lower fat diet with extra fiber), and most importantly, a significant decrease in the cellular proliferation rate. In fact in two of the men, their PSA levels dropped so much they didn’t even have to go through with the second biopsy!

Slowing the Growth of Cancer is good, but how about Cancer Reversal Through Diet? In other words, if one plant could do that, what about a whole diet full of plants? See my video series that goes from Ex Vivo Cancer Proliferation Bioassay (actually Engineering a Cure) to The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle.

For benign prostate gland enlargement see Prostate vs. Plants, and Prostate vs. a Plant-Based Diet (with background in Some Prostates Are Larger than Others).

What about for breast cancer? See Breast Cancer Survival and Lignan Intake. More on these wonderful seeds in Flax and Fecal Flora, my smoothies (A Better Breakfast), and the oldie but goodie Just the Flax, Ma’am. What about chia? Find out which is better in Flaxseeds vs. Chia Seeds.

Since the dietary intervention involved both reducing fat intake and flaxseed consumption, how do we know the flax had anything to do with it? Given the composite nature of the intervention—both a lower fat diet and flaxseeds, it was unknown whether the effects could be attributed to flaxseed supplementation, a fat-restricted diet, or both factors working together.  To figure that out you’d have to do a study where you split men into four groups, a control group, a flaxseed only group, a lower-fat only group, and then a flaxseed and lower fat group. And that’s exactly what they did. Find out the results in my follow-up video Was It the Flaxseed, Fat Restriction, or Both?.

That reminds me of the experiment described in Is It the Diet, the Exercise, or Both? in which researchers try to tease out the individual effects of a similar composite treatment—a plant-based diet and walking—on the growth of prostate cancer cells in vitro. They both appeared to help, but diet appeared to be more powerfully protective.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit:  / Wikimedia Commons

Why Is Selling Salmonella-Tainted Chicken Legal?

October 1, 2013 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 8 Comments

Why is Selling Salmonella Tainted Chicken Still Legal

When researchers last year at the Emerging Pathogens Institute ranked foodborne pathogens to figure out which was the worst, Salmonella was number one on their list. Salmonella was ranked the food poisoning bacteria with the greatest public health burden on our country, the leading cause of food poisoning hospitalization, and the number one cause of food-related death. Where do you get it from?

In my video Total Recall I talked about the threat of eggs. According to the FDA, 142,000 Americans are sickened every year by eggs contaminated with Salmonella. That’s an egg-borne epidemic every year. But Salmonella in eggs was only ranked the tenth worst pathogen-food combination. Salmonella in poultry ranks even worse, the fourth worst contaminated food in the United States in terms of both cost and quality-adjusted years of life lost.  In terms of getting Salmonella poisoning from various U.S. foods, eating chicken may be eight times riskier than eating eggs.

Due to strengthening of food safety regulations under the Clinton administration, the number of Americans poisoned by chicken dropped every year from about 390,000 to 200,000. This was rightly hailed as a significant accomplishment. So now eating chicken only sickens 200,000 people in the U.S. every year. Isn’t that a bit like some toy company boasting that they’ve reduced the amount of lead in their toys and they’re now poisoning 40 percent fewer kids? Hundreds of thousands sickened isn’t exactly something to boast about, and the numbers have since rebounded upwards.

Since the late ’90s human Salmonella cases have increased by 44 percent. The rebound in incidence of Salmonella infection is likely a result of several factors, but one important risk factor singled out is eating chicken, since the proportion of chicken carrying infection has increased.  When people think manure in meat they typically think ground beef, but when you look at E. coli levels there’s fecal matter in about 65 percent of American beef, yet in more than 80 percent in poultry (chicken and turkey).

Why have we seen a decrease in the Jack-in-the-box E. coli O157 but not chicken-borne Salmonella? In the last decade or so, E. coli infected beef and children has dropped by about 30 percent. Salmonella, on the other hand, has actually increased over the last 15 years. One reason for the difference is that the O157:H7 was declared an “adulterant,” defined as any poisonous or deleterious substance that may render meat injurious to health. So selling E. coli laden beef is illegal.

Why is beef laced with E. coli contaminated fecal matter considered adulterated, but chicken laced with Salmonella contaminated fecal matter okay? Salmonella certainly kills more people than the banned E.coli. It all goes back to a famous case I detail in my video Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey: Deadly But Not Illegal, when the American Public Health Association sued the USDA for putting its stamp of approval on meat contaminated with Salmonella.

What could the USDA possibly say in meat’s defense? They pointed out that there have been Salmonella outbreaks linked to dairy and eggs, for example, too, so since “there are numerous sources of contamination which might contribute to the overall problem.” It would be “unjustified to single out the meat industry and ask that the Department require it to identify its raw products as being hazardous to health.” That’s like the tuna industry arguing there’s no need to label cans of tuna with mercury levels because you can also get exposed eating a thermometer.

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the meat industry position, arguing you can allow potentially deadly Salmonella in meat because, “American housewives are…normally are not ignorant or stupid and their methods of preparing and cooking of food do not ordinarily result in salmonellosis.” What?! That’s like saying oh, minivans don’t need seatbelts because soccer moms don’t ordinarily crash into things.

I’ve talked about this travesty before in my blog post Why is it Legal to Sell Unsafe Meat? and video Unsafe at Any Feed. Don’t worry, though, the meat industry is on it! See my videos Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray (if you dare! :)

My video Food Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination explains that raw meat can be dangerous no matter how long you cook it and Fecal Bacteria Survey features an industry trade journal explaining the difference between the attitude in Europe and The United States.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned the USDA to bar the sale of Salmonella-contaminated meat, but so far to no avail.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit:  futureshape / Flickr

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