Preventing Prostate Cancer with Green Tea

Preventing Prostate Cancer with Green Tea
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One third of men in their 30s may already have tiny, cancerous tumors in their prostates. How much tea would we have to drink to build up cancer-suppressing levels in our prostate tissue?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Prostate cancer is a leading cause of illness and death among men in [the Western world].” But, the prostate cancer rates in Asia can be as much as ten times lower. Maybe, genetically they’re just less likely to get it. No. Japanese- and Chinese-Americans have high prostate cancer rates, as well.

In the U.S., up to nearly one in three men in their 30s already have small prostate cancers brewing, and that grows to nearly two-thirds of American men by their 60s. On autopsy, most older men were found to have unknown cancerous tumors in their prostates. What’s remarkable is that Asian men seem to have the same prevalence of these hidden, latent prostate cancers on autopsy, but the tumors don’t tend to grow enough to cause problems. In Japan, men tend to die with their tumors, rather than from their tumors. Of course, that’s changing, as Asian populations continue to Westernize their diets.

What is it about Western diets that’s fueling cancer growth? Well, it could be carcinogens in the diet, accelerating the growth of cancer. “The typical U.S. diet is rich in animal fats and meats…” But, it could also be something protective in Asian diets that’s slowing the cancer growth—like fruits and vegetables, soy foods, or green tea.

How might one figure out if there’s a link between tea consumption and risk and progression of prostate cancer? Well, you could see if tea drinkers tend to get less cancer in the future, and if cancer victims tended to have drank less tea in the past. Dozens of studies have done just that, and although the results were mixed, overall tea consumption was associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer. And so, tea consumption might indeed play a protective role.

But, just because tea drinkers get less cancer doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the tea. Maybe tea drinking is just a sign of a more traditional lifestyle. Maybe tea drinkers are less likely to be patrons of the thousand KFC outlets now in Japan, for example.

To control for as many factors as possible, you could perform in vitro studies in a lab, where you take everything else out of the equation, except green tea and prostate cancer, by dripping green tea compounds directly onto prostate cancer cells in a petri dish—which can cause them to self-destruct. But, are enough green tea compounds absorbed into our bloodstream when we drink it? Looks like it takes about a concentration of 40 (picomoles per milliliter) to cut the viability of human prostate cancer cells more than half in a petri dish. How much green tea would men have to drink to get concentrations that high in their prostate glands?

Well, if you have men drink six cups of green tea a day before undergoing prostate removal surgery, they can build up that 40 picomole cancer-stopping concentration in their prostate tissue. That may explain why some studies failed to find an association between tea drinking and cancer. In the U.S., for example, the high tea-drinking group may be defined as more than five cups of tea a week, which didn’t seem to do much.

But, in Japan, the high tea-drinking group can be five or more cups a day, which appeared to cut the risk of aggressive prostate cancer about in half—not apparently by preventing the formation of the cancer in the first place, but perhaps by slowing or stopping the cancer’s growth. If green tea can stop the growth of prostate cancer, why not try giving green tea to prostate cancer patients to see if it’ll help—which we’ll explore, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credits: KFCsign via flickr and the3cats via pixabay. Images have been modified.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Prostate cancer is a leading cause of illness and death among men in [the Western world].” But, the prostate cancer rates in Asia can be as much as ten times lower. Maybe, genetically they’re just less likely to get it. No. Japanese- and Chinese-Americans have high prostate cancer rates, as well.

In the U.S., up to nearly one in three men in their 30s already have small prostate cancers brewing, and that grows to nearly two-thirds of American men by their 60s. On autopsy, most older men were found to have unknown cancerous tumors in their prostates. What’s remarkable is that Asian men seem to have the same prevalence of these hidden, latent prostate cancers on autopsy, but the tumors don’t tend to grow enough to cause problems. In Japan, men tend to die with their tumors, rather than from their tumors. Of course, that’s changing, as Asian populations continue to Westernize their diets.

What is it about Western diets that’s fueling cancer growth? Well, it could be carcinogens in the diet, accelerating the growth of cancer. “The typical U.S. diet is rich in animal fats and meats…” But, it could also be something protective in Asian diets that’s slowing the cancer growth—like fruits and vegetables, soy foods, or green tea.

How might one figure out if there’s a link between tea consumption and risk and progression of prostate cancer? Well, you could see if tea drinkers tend to get less cancer in the future, and if cancer victims tended to have drank less tea in the past. Dozens of studies have done just that, and although the results were mixed, overall tea consumption was associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer. And so, tea consumption might indeed play a protective role.

But, just because tea drinkers get less cancer doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the tea. Maybe tea drinking is just a sign of a more traditional lifestyle. Maybe tea drinkers are less likely to be patrons of the thousand KFC outlets now in Japan, for example.

To control for as many factors as possible, you could perform in vitro studies in a lab, where you take everything else out of the equation, except green tea and prostate cancer, by dripping green tea compounds directly onto prostate cancer cells in a petri dish—which can cause them to self-destruct. But, are enough green tea compounds absorbed into our bloodstream when we drink it? Looks like it takes about a concentration of 40 (picomoles per milliliter) to cut the viability of human prostate cancer cells more than half in a petri dish. How much green tea would men have to drink to get concentrations that high in their prostate glands?

Well, if you have men drink six cups of green tea a day before undergoing prostate removal surgery, they can build up that 40 picomole cancer-stopping concentration in their prostate tissue. That may explain why some studies failed to find an association between tea drinking and cancer. In the U.S., for example, the high tea-drinking group may be defined as more than five cups of tea a week, which didn’t seem to do much.

But, in Japan, the high tea-drinking group can be five or more cups a day, which appeared to cut the risk of aggressive prostate cancer about in half—not apparently by preventing the formation of the cancer in the first place, but perhaps by slowing or stopping the cancer’s growth. If green tea can stop the growth of prostate cancer, why not try giving green tea to prostate cancer patients to see if it’ll help—which we’ll explore, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credits: KFCsign via flickr and the3cats via pixabay. Images have been modified.

Doctor's Note

CORRECTION: Thanks to Darryl’s eagle eyes, I realized my analysis of the in vitro data was off by three orders of magnitude. This suggests that the powerful clinical effect of green tea on prostate cancer isn’t a direct effect, since the concentrations of at least one green tea compound within the prostate tissue wouldn’t be high enough to suppress cancer growth, at least in a petri dish.


Green tea is actually put to the test in cancer patients in my video Treating Prostate Cancer with Green Tea.

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