Pomegranate vs. Placebo for Prostate Cancer
"Pomegranate vs. Placebo for Prostate Cancer" The pomegranate has been revered through the ages for its medicinal properties. So much so, it's been used as a symbol for some medical organizations. A fruit seems to me a better representation of health than a snake on a stick.
Supposedly beneficial for a wide range of diseases. Even the cannibals love it, improving the color of "kid meat." No, they're talking about baby goats; it just gave me a bit of a double-take when I saw this study. Most of the attention over the last decade has focused on pomegranates and prostate cancer, starting with in vitro studies, showing more and more pomegranate extract can suppress the growth of prostate cancer cells in a Petri dish by up to 95%.
What about normal prostate cells? This is what normal prostate cells look like under a microscope, with a little or a lot of pomegranate extract. No real difference. Doesn't seem to do much to healthy cells. But here's what prostate cancer looks like, just decimated by the pomegranate. But this was in a Petri dish, not a person. Yes, if these results translated to the clinic it could be dramatic, but first we have to try it out in people. Primary management of prostate cancer consists of either radical surgery or radiation.
Despite this, a significant number of patients relapse and ultimately develop metastatic disease. Even after a radical prostatectomy, in about a third of the patients the cancer comes back, as evidenced by rising PSA levels. At that point, the treatment options are limited; I mean, you already took out the prostate. The next step is essentially chemical castration, hormonal ablation. Just like breast cancer can thrive on estrogen, prostate cancer can thrive on testosterone, so you can try to wipe out testosterone, but that can have such negative side-effects; anything we can do to delay that would be good. So what about plants? They note that men in Asia have the lowest prostate cancer rates in the world, up to ten times less than North America. Now is this just a genetic thing? No, when Japanese individuals move to the United States and start eating and living like us, their breast and prostate cancer rates shoot up right towards ours.
This could be because of what they're eating more of here: animal products are the strongest risk factor for prostate cancer worldwide on a country-by-country basis, or because of what they're eating less of here: their traditional low fat, high fiber diets with soy products and green tea and plant-rich in general. So did these researchers try sticking these cancer patients on a plant-based diet? No, they just had them drink a cup of pomegranate juice every day. Why? Because the study was funded by the pomegranate juice folks. At least they were allowed to take it by mouth. So what happened? Well, in the three years leading up to the study, their cancer was steadily growing, as measured by their average PSA levels going up.
Then once they started the juice, their tumors continued to grow, but it looks like they were growing slower. Now in contrast, Dr. Dean Ornish and colleagues got an apparent reversal in early prostate cancer growth with a plant-based diet and other healthy lifestyle changes. PSA didn't just go up slower; it trended down. And dripping the blood of men on prostate cancer growing in a lab, the blood serum of those eating healthy suppressed cancer growth nearly eight times better, whereas the blood of the men on the juice just suppressed cancer growth by about 12%, but still, I mean to see anything just drinking a cup of juice every day is pretty impressive.
The problem is there was no control group. Now you could say they kind of acted as their own controls: this is them before and after. It's probably not just a coincidence that their tumors started growing slower right when they started the juice, but check this out. This is a drug trial trying to do the same thing: treat men with recurring prostate cancer after surgery or radiation. In the drug group, tumor growth slowed in 55% of the men. Pretty effective drug, right? The sugar pill worked 73% of the time. The placebo effect can be so powerful that it may slow cancer growth. This is why we need placebo-controlled trials.
Maybe tricking people into drinking pomegranate-flavored Kool-Aid would have the same effect: you think you're doing something for yourself, and so the cancer might slow. You don't know until you put it to the test. Finally, a randomized controlled trial of pomegranate juice for prostate cancer, and as you can read in the title, it had no impact. What do they mean, no impact? 25% of the cancer patients appeared to shrink their tumors as soon as they started drinking the pomegranate juice. Yeah, but 35% shrunk their tumors not drinking pomegranate juice. So any effect appears to just be a placebo.
It's the same story with pomegranate extract pills. They seemed to work until they went head to head with sugar pills and fell flat on their face.
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