April 5, 2001 -- Red wine, almonds, coffee, and certain fruits and nuts rich in a nutrient called boron may help stave off prostate cancer, preliminary research suggests.
While researchers are not sure exactly how boron lowers risk for prostate cancer, the new study shows that men who consumed the greatest amount of boron were 64% less likely to develop prostate cancer, when compared with men who consumed the least amount of boron in the study. The findings were presented this week at the Experimental Biology conference in Orlando, Fla.
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. The American Cancer Society predicts that there will be about 180,400 new cases of prostate cancer in this country in the year 2000, and about 31,900 men will die of this disease. Boron is a naturally occurring trace element that is believed to play a role in certain cellular processes involved in cancer protection.
"This is the very first study relating dietary boron intake and cancer risk," says lead researcher Zuo-Fen Zhang, MD, PhD, director of the Cancer Epidemiology Training Program at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Public Health.
While cautioning that the findings are preliminary, he tells WebMD that "there was a big reduction of prostate cancer in people who consumed the greatest amount of boron."
And those men in the study who ate the second-highest and third-highest amount of boron also had a lower risk than men in the study who consumed the least amount of boron, he says.
To arrive at their findings, the researchers compared dietary patterns of 76 men with prostate cancer to that of 7,651 males without cancer. Men in the lowest quartile of boron consumption ate roughly one slice of fruit per day, while those in the highest quartile consumed 3.5 servings of fruit per day.
"We see this association is very specific to prostate cancer," he says. "We did not observe any association for boron and colon/rectal, breast, uterine, cervical or skin cancer," Zhang says. The researchers used data from the large-scale, ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination study to draw these conclusions.
The next step, he says, is to repeat the findings in a larger study to see if the results hold.
So what should you do in the meantime?
"Eat a balanced diet that especially includes fruits and nuts," says another study researcher Charlene Rainey, the president of Food Research Inc. of Costa Mesa, Calif. And remember that boron is anything but boring, she says. There's something for everyone when it comes to boron-rich foods.
"Almonds, peanuts, peanut butter, grapes, raisins, grape juice, dried fruits, dried nuts, and legumes are rich in boron," she says. "Red wine is also a very good source of boron," she says. Some of the compounds found in red wine also have been shown to lower risk for heart disease when it is consumed in moderation.
Coffee and milk also contain some boron, she says.
"Structurally, fruits and vegetables contain lots of micronutrients and ingredients that seem to have a protective effect, and we have added boron to the list," says another study researcher Curtis Eckhert, PhD, chair of the department of Environmental Health Sciences at the UCLA school of Public Health and the chair of boron research at the meeting.
"It came out to be protective against prostate cancer," he says.
"It seems that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables in their diet have a lower risk of certain types of cancer," says Ruth Kava, RD, PhD, the director of nutrition for the American Council on Science and Health, based in New York City.
Boron is virtually an "unknown nutrient," she says, adding that this is "an interesting study that is going to be the basis of further research."
Kava points out that there currently is not enough known about boron to establish a recommended daily allowance
"It's way too early to say much of anything so far about the possible health effects of boron, [but] there are reasons to think from animal studies that it could be important in growth and development," she tells WebMD.