An aromatic flavoring that’s familiar on the Thanksgiving buffet has a health benefit that men will be grateful for. I’m referring to allspice, which comes from the dried unripe berry of the tropical Pimenta dioica plant.
With a taste reminiscent of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper all mixed into one savory little package, allspice is best known as the flavor powerhouse in pumpkin pie—but researchers recently discovered that it also may have the power to shrink prostate cancers. But then the question is…how would a man use it for health?
To understand why allspice might protect the prostate, you must start with the fact that most forms of prostate cancer thrive on androgens (male hormones, such as testosterone). That’s why doctors treat prostate cancer with powerful drugs that either stop the production of androgens or block them from being used by the body. But the medications’ side effects—severe hot flashes, decreased libido and increased risk for osteoporosis, diabetes and coronary artery disease—can be so difficult to tolerate that many men don’t remain on the drugs long enough to reap the full benefits.
The new study shows that allspice can block androgen receptor molecules that are vital to the growth and spread of prostate cancer—at least in mice. Though preliminary, the new research is so encouraging that all men should take note.
Part of the study took place in test tubes. The researchers prepared an allspice extract from the crushed berries and distilled water, then mixed the extract with human prostate cancer cells. Using several different methods, they determined that the allspice extract slowed the growth of prostate cancer cells by half in just 48 hours…blocked the progression of the cancer cell cycle…and induced cancer cell death.
Next, the researchers tested allspice in animals. First, mice were injected with human prostate cancer cells to make tumors grow. Then, one group of mice was given allspice extract to drink every day…a second group was injected with the extract three times per week. Other mice, serving as controls, were not given any of the extract.
Six weeks later: Compared with prostate tumors in the control mice, tumors in the mice that were injected with the allspice extract were 58% smaller. Drinking the extract seemed even more beneficial, with tumors in that group of mice being 62% smaller than those in the control group. There were no apparent adverse effects from the allspice.
After some trial-and-error testing, the researchers determined that the compound in allspice responsible for the slower tumor growth was ericifolin. Rather than affecting androgens themselves (as anti-androgen drugs do), ericifolin prevents the androgen receptor from being synthesized in the cancer cells. Because it gets to the root cause of the trouble, the researchers said, this mechanism potentially makes ericifolin particularly useful in fighting a deadlier, advanced form of the disease (called hormone refractory prostate cancer) in which the receptor works autonomously, without the androgens. Bonus: Ericifolin also has been shown to have antioxidant, antibacterial and pain-relieving effects.
Obviously, since this study was performed in test tubes and mice, it is way too early to suggest that allspice can prevent or cure prostate cancer in men—but the researchers did call it “potentially a unique dietary chemopreventive agent” in the fight against the number-two cause of cancer deaths among men.
Allspice generally is considered safe when consumed in amounts typically used to season foods, but not enough is known about its safety in medicinal amounts…and there is some concern that it may slow down blood clotting or interfere with medications that reduce blood clotting. Clearly, future studies are needed to test allspice’s safety and efficacy in reducing prostate tumor size and/or preventing prostate cancer and to determine the most appropriate medicinal dosage. In the meantime, it’s worth talking to your doctor about the possibility of adding more allspice to your diet.
Adding more allspice to your diet: To receive a dose of allspice equivalent to that which the mice received, a man would have to consume about two teaspoons of powdered allspice per day. You’re probably not going to eat enough pumpkin pie daily to get that much allspice (though you might enjoy trying), but there are lots of other ways to get allspice into your diet. For instance, allspice is frequently used in Asian, Middle Eastern and Caribbean cuisine, especially Jamaican jerk seasoning and spiced teas. You can use allspice by sprinkling it on green beans, carrots, sweet potatoes or scrambled eggs…using it to season braised or barbequed meats after cooking…or adding it to ground coffee before brewing. Experiment to see what tastes good to you.