Everywhere you turn, you see advertisements telling you that you need more testosterone. While it is true that men have historically low testosterone levels in the modern-day, more may not be better for you. In fact, it may be a potent form of fuel for prostate cancer, which is one of the leading causes of death in men.
Feeling like you’re on a fence? You want more testosterone, but you also don’t want to plant the seed for an aggressive form of cancer that you’ll have to deal with later down the line. So what do you do?
Let’s take a closer look at the connection between testosterone and prostate cancer as well as the early warning signs and what you can do to prevent prostate cancer while maintaining healthy testosterone levels.
Testosterone is the male-dominant sex hormone. It’s one of several growth hormones that are responsible for kickstarting puberty and promoting androgenic and anabolic features such as a deeper voice, organ development, and bigger muscles.
Given the fact that it’s an anabolic or growth-focused hormone, testosterone has been thought of as fuel for cancer cells, especially in the prostate. One study that was published in the 1940s examined the relationship between testosterone levels and prostate cancer risk.
Researchers concluded that low testosterone and prostate cancer risk correlated with the slowing down or cessation of cancer growth. On the other hand, the study also found that more testosterone and prostate cancer risk correlated with a higher chance of developing cancer or worsening an already existing condition. In other words, prostate cancer and testosterone have been intertwined for years.
From this research, doctors began giving hormone therapy to patients, significantly reducing their levels of testosterone in order to cut off the supposed fuel supply to prostate cancer. Once the cancer was put in check, the testosterone levels were gradually restored, but kept under close monitoring.
Hormone therapy has been the go-to treatment for prostate cancer for decades, but recent research is calling this practice into question. As we’ll explore in more below, some researchers feel that testosterone has been unnecessarily demonized and blamed for the spike in prostate cancer on a global level. Before we discuss this, let’s explore how testosterone has been thought to boost your risk of prostate cancer.
Why exactly do researchers believe that testosterone can send your risk for prostate cancer through the roof? There’s no one universal explanation, but some experts point to a far more androgenic compound called dihydrotestosterone or DHT. When testosterones levels are within a healthy range, the body will use it for different purposes, one of which is creating DHT.
Testosterone is converted into DHT, which influences androgenic and anabolic features more than testosterone does. Sure, this may sound great when you’re building muscle, but this is bad news if you have a family history of prostate cancer.
DHT has been shown to increase the growth of prostate cells and it’s when these cells overgrow that the risk for prostate cancer skyrockets. The more testosterone you have, the more will be converted to DHT, potentially fueling this prostate cancer risk.
Outside of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone, there are several other causes of prostate cancer that you need to be aware of.
Passed Down: If prostate cancer runs in your family, your chances of developing it are much higher than someone who doesn’t.
Age: Like most diseases and conditions, as you get older, your risk for prostate cancer increases. The average age for a prostate cancer diagnosis is around 65.
Race: Some races are at a higher risk for prostate cancer. Most notably, African American men have the highest risk of prostate cancer and tumors when compared to white and Hispanic men.
Diet: It’s a cliché, but it’s completely true: You are what you eat. Studies show that a diet focused on processed high-fat, high-carbohydrate options will dramatically increase your risk for prostate cancer.
Activity Level: Studies show that those people who live a sedentary lifestyle are at a higher risk for prostate cancer when compared to their up-and-about counterparts.
Environment: Those who live in an environment with pollution (noise, smog, etc.) and easily absorbable toxins (e.g. pesticides) are thought to have a higher chance to develop cancer, especially prostate cancer.
While prostate cancer risk is extremely low for those under the age of 40, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you can to prevent it now. Here are some ways to reduce your risk of prostate cancer:
Eat Better: Studies show that a diet that focuses primarily on plants with a low intake of lean meats and fish such as chicken and tuna can lower your risk of prostate cancer complications. Eat plenty of dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables while drastically reducing or eliminating red meat and dairy.
For protein sources, fish is suggested because studies have found that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish can support your health and lower your chances of developing prostate cancer.
Drink Green Tea and Coffee: Several studies have pointed out the overall health benefits of making green tea and fresh coffee a part of your daily dietary routine. Here’s another reason to do it: drinking coffee and green tea regularly may help to reduce your risk for prostate cancer development.
Get Physical: By increasing your daily physical activity, you can lower your risk for prostate cancer. The Center for Disease Control recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise each week. This can include things like weight training, biking, jogging, and fitness classes.
Weight Management: By improving your eating habits and exercise regimen, you can support a healthier weight. Experts suggest that men with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above have a significantly higher risk for prostate cancer, not to mention several other cardiovascular-related complications. Keeping your weight within a healthy range is a relatively simple way of avoiding complications related to prostate cancer while supporting your wellness.
Many doctors refer to prostate cancer as a silent killer because there are no noticeable symptoms until it’s already begun to spread. This is why it’s essential to have a regular prostate exam beginning at the age of 35. You may even want to begin at the age of 30 if your family has a history of aggressive prostate cancer.
When symptoms do appear, they usually include issues related to urination such as an urgent need to go, trouble starting or stopping, having a weak urine flow, and blood in the urine. You may even experience pain in the form of burning or stinging as you pee.
Men with prostate issues also report issues in the bedroom; many men aren’t able to get or maintain an erection. If they ejaculate, the sensation may not be pleasurable, but painful.
Again, these symptoms could be a sign that the cancer has already begun to develop or even spread. If you’re a middle-aged or older guy and you experience any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately.
As we mentioned above, not all researchers are convinced of the fire and fuel relationship that testosterone and prostate cancer have. Some recent studies have found just the opposite: that there is no correlation between testosterone levels and prostate cancer. One study even found that men with low testosterone levels had a higher risk of prostate cancer!
What about testosterone therapy and prostate cancer? Are guys who are receiving synthetic testosterone support at a higher risk for developing or worsening prostate cancer? One research review found that receiving responsible testosterone treatment will not have any impact on your risk for prostate cancer.
One of the most fascinating studies of the last year introduced extremely high levels of testosterone followed by dramatically low levels. Think of it like a wave pool where large waves are followed by tiny waves: this is what scientists were doing to prostate cancer. The result?
Researchers found that this testosterone shock therapy was highly effective in making cancer cells inactive or killing them completely.
Within the last several years, the playing field has been leveled out for both sides of the argument regarding the effect that testosterone has on prostate cancer.
There’s no question that more studies are needed, but what seems to be safe to suggest is that those men who have no family history of prostate cancer and are living a healthy lifestyle with a healthy diet and plenty of exercise shouldn’t have much to worry about in regards to their testosterone levels.
With that said, we still highly recommend scheduling an appointment with your doctor to discuss the health of your prostate.
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