Millions of men suffer from prostate cancer. Many doctors will tell you it is caused by too much testosterone (T). And doctors have been telling their patients that since 1941…
But some experts say that doesn’t add up. Young men have lots of testosterone. But their levels drop as they age. So if T causes prostate cancer, why is the disease an older man’s problem?
An earlier study – put out in 1934 by Oxford University – had found that testosterone actually combats prostate cancer.
And some modern doctors now believe this is true. They say mainstream medicine took a wrong turn in 1941… and millions of men have suffered for it ever since.
One Harvard doctor has spent the last 20 years putting this theory to the test. When he went back to the original 1941 source, he discovered that the theory “was based on almost nothing at all.” Since then, he’s compiled two decades of clinical proof showing that T helps men fight prostate cancer.
But can a few doctors be right, when so many are wrong? And why do some doctors think T combats prostate cancer… while most mainstream physicians think it causes it?
Building a Modern Medical Myth
In 1941 a urologist named Charles Huggins linked high testosterone levels to prostate cancer. He even won the Nobel Prize for it and became famous for his research.
Dr. Huggins was studying the biochemistry of seminal fluid. For years, he had collected the prostatic fluid from dogs. As part of his research he’d castrated several dogs. That’s when he made a chance discovery.
In some dogs with prostate tumors, castration seemed to shrink the tumors. So he began targeting these dogs. He confirmed that chemical castration caused their prostate tumors to shrink.
He published his findings in a 1940 issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
After that he applied his theory to men. In 1941, he castrated three men whose cancer had already spread to their bones. Then he tested their blood for levels of acid phosphatase – an enzyme that is elevated in men with aggressive prostate cancer.
The acid phosphatase dropped significantly after castration. So how did cutting off a man’s testicles combat prostate cancer? Dr. Huggins developed a theory that testosterone causes prostate cancer. By cutting off the testes, he cut the development of T. The decline in acid phosphatase was the “proof” that his treatment was working.
Mainstream medicine took it as gospel. They awarded Dr. Huggins the Nobel Prize and have accepted the theory ever since.
Modern Medical Mystery
When Dr. Abraham Morgentaler was in medical school at Harvard, he learned Dr. Huggins’ theory about prostate cancer and T. It was only after he graduated and began working with his own patients that he began to question this long-held idea.
On a daily basis he was working with men who had infertility and sexual problems. He found that most of them had low T. But that didn’t make sense. His education told him that T was the root cause of prostate problems.
He also found that when he gave men T, their prostate problems got better. Since his results went against mainstream thinking and he didn’t want to put his patients at risk, he began doing biopsies prior to treatment to check for cancer.
He discovered that all of his patients had low T levels. But out of the men that he biopsied, several already had prostate cancer. This surprised him because men with low T were supposed to have less risk.
So, he took his findings to a national urology meeting, where he was told, “This is garbage! Everyone knows that high testosterone causes prostate cancer.”
Dr. Morgentaler was crushed. He was a promising young doctor who had just been humiliated on a national stage for questioning conventional wisdom.
He didn’t know what to say. “These are the results we obtained,” he told the audience. “We present them here because they do fly in the face of conventional wisdom, which is why we believe they may be of interest to this audience.”
He was laughed off stage and went back to his practice. But the experience made him determined to dig deeper into the mystery. By the mid-90s he was studying the incidence of cancer amongst men with low T. He found that 14 percent of men with low T had cancer.
He started documenting his findings and published them in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It was the first paper to challenge accepted medical thinking on T and prostate cancer.
“Frankly, most experts just didn’t know what to make of our results,” says Dr. Morgentaler. “A high prostate cancer rate among men with low T didn’t fit into the existing way of thinking.”
He didn’t blame his peers. They were just accepting 70 years of dogma. But it made him wonder, how solid were the origins of the theory connecting T to prostate cancer?
What if the 1941 study had got it all wrong? What if low T actually contributed to prostate cancer?
So he went back to the origins of what he now suspected was a modern medical myth….
The Major Flaw in Huggins’s Original Research
In the basement of Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine, Dr. Morgentaler found an old issue of the Cancer Research journal.
He pored over its pages. And what he found turned everything he thought he knew on its head. The modern medical thinking wasn’t built on a solid foundation. In fact, the actual research was paper thin.
He reports that Dr. Huggins’s research was based on just three men who had T injections. He only revealed the results for two of those men. And one of those men was already castrated before the treatment began.
So the theory that informs all modern medical thinking on testosterone and prostate cancer was based on just one patient whose acid phophatase levels happened to increase.
“Dr. Huggins’s assertion that higher T caused greater growth of prostate cancer, repeated so long and accepted as gospel, was based on almost nothing at all,” says Dr. Morgentaler.
Dr. Morgentaler points out that even the findings gained from the single test subject are flawed. That’s because acid phophatase is no longer considered a reliable test marker.
Debunking a 70-Year-Old Theory
Once he knew that the T theory of prostate cancer was based on nothing, Dr. Morgentaler began testing his own theory aggressively. He worked with hundreds of patients to combat prostate problems with T supplementation.
He published study after study in peer reviewed journals including the New England Journal of Medicine and dozens of others. And he’s connected with doctors around the world who are getting the same results and offering their findings for peer review.
“There is now a growing concern that low T is more of a risk for prostate cancer than high T,” says Dr. Morgentaler. “The relationship of T to prostate cancer has undergone a significant reevaluation… and all recent evidence [shows] that T therapy is safe for the prostate.”
While many mainstream doctors still oppose this emerging thinking, they may be forced to change as study after study supports this new view.
For example, a group of German doctors conducted a 2009 study at the University Medical Center in Ulm. The doctors noted the high prevalence of low T in men with prostate cancer. The symptoms included depression, lack of libido and decreased bone density.
Researchers analyzed four published studies. Men were given T after treatment for prostate cancer. And they found only one recurrence of cancer.
“Testosterone plays an important role,” the researchers wrote. “Based on this data, physicians cannot justify withholding [T therapy] from patients after they have been treated for prostate cancer.“
Additional research from credible sources backs this up.
Harvard Medical School published a study in 2000. The study found that men with low T had faster growing tumors and more advanced prostate disease.
“Patients with low ‘T’ had extensive disease,” wrote the researchers. “All men [with severe prostate cancer] had low testosterone.”
Another study was done by the University of Witwatersrand in Africa.
In this study of 122 patients, researchers found that men with the highest T levels had the lowest incidence of prostate disease. The patients with the lowest levels had the highest incidence of prostate disease.
“Low T results in aggressive disease and a poor prognosis in advanced prostate cancer,” concluded the researchers.
11 Easy Ways to Boost Your Own Testosterone
More and more research suggests that T therapy may help men combat prostate problems. It also shows that the balance of T to your other hormones may be vital to your general health.
Dr. Morgentaler points out that testosterone therapy has many positive benefits. These include “improvement in energy, sexual desire and performance, muscle mass and strength, bone density and mood.”
And the great news is that you can safely increase testosterone levels without doctor-regulated therapy. Plenty of studies show that dietary and lifestyle changes can increase your body’s natural production of the hormone.
One of the easiest methods? Consume a high-protein diet. Healthful foods rich in protein include grass-fed beef, wild salmon, eggs and pastured pork and poultry.
You can also supplement your diet. Zinc and vitamin E are both great for boosting testosterone levels. Avocados and asparagus are both high in vitamin E. And great sources of zinc include kelp, mushrooms, and oysters. If you’re on the go, you can pack raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds.