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Does Vitamin A Help People Pee?
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The subject may be indelicate, but it’s hard for sufferers to ignore.
Starting in late middle age, many men and women experience one or more of the cluster of conditions called “lower urinary tract symptoms” or LUTS.
Women’s risk of LUTS has been linked to excess body weight, higher calorie intakes, and eating more saturated fats than polyunsaturated plant and fish fats (Maserejian NN et al. 2009 and 2010).
Lower risk for LUTS in men has been linked to diets that favor protein over carbohydrates, to higher intakes of isoflavones (soy foods), and to lower calorie and sodium intakes (Wong SY et al. 2007; Maserejian NN et al. 2009)
A new study may have found other protective factors for older men, four out of 10 of whom experience urinary discomforts that range from difficulty peeing to incontinence.
It’s often hard to link men’s urinary symptoms to a specific cause, although they’re generally prostate-related.
Most treatments involve the prostate gland, and include drugs and, as needed, various surgical or other physical techniques, like microwaves, ultra sound, laser prostatectomy, prostate stenting, and balloon dilatation.
Now, an analysis of data from a diet-health survey suggests that foods high in vitamin A or certain carotenes may reduce the risk of LUTS in men by 40 to 50 percent.
As the researchers from Harvard and Northwestern University wrote, “Clinically, our results provide support to recommendations for increased fruit and vegetable consumption, particularly those rich in carotenoids … as these may have benefits that extend to moderate-to-severe LUTS in men.”
They noted that further confirmation of their findings is important, given the “… recognized need for non-invasive, modifiable lifestyle options for the prevention and treatment of LUTS …” (Maserejian NN et al. 2011).
Harvard study links carotenes and A to pee
Nancy Maserejian, M.D., and her team analyzed health records and diet surveys from 1,466 Boston men aged 30 to 79.
Their results showed a significant drop in the risk of LUTS for men consuming the greatest amounts of vitamin A … or either of two carotene-class antioxidants:
  • Lycopene abounds in tomato, watermelon, grapefruit, papaya, and apricots.
  • Beta-carotene occurs in carrots, red-orange-yellow peppers, winter squash, and dark leafy greens (e.g., spinach and collards). Five servings of such fruit and vegetables provide about 5-10mg of beta-carotene. Humans can convert to vitamin A as needed.
Vitamin A is most concentrated in liver, carrots, cod liver oil, unrefined salmon oil, meats, dairy foods, fortified cereals, red-orange-yellow peppers, winter squash, and dark leafy greens (e.g., spinach and collards).
These were the Harvard/Northwestern team’s specific findings:
  1. Men with the highest estimated intakes of beta-carotene (4.78mg per day) were 44 percent less likely to report difficulty urinating, compared with the lowest intake (0.7mg per day).
  2. Men estimated to consume the highest average amount of lycopene (2.25mg per day) were 39 percent less likely to have LUTS, compared with the lowest intake (0.28mg per day).
  3. Men with the highest estimated intakes of vitamin A (10,926 IUs per day) were 47 percent less likely to report difficulty urinating, versus the lowest intakes (4,717 IU per day).
While eating adequate amounts of vitamin C seemed to help, men who reported high intakes of vitamin C (i.e., more 250-500mg/day) or iron from foods and/or supplements were more likely to have LUTS.
The researchers suggested that high-dose vitamin C (ascorbic acid) raises the acidity of urine, which is known to increase the desire and urgency to pee.
Why would these food factors help?
If one presumed that the LUTS benefits were related to the actions of vitamin A, for which beta-carotene is a precursor, it becomes unclear why lycopene would help because it is not a precursor to vitamin A.
That fact suggests that the three compounds have something in common other than the ability to fulfill essential vitamin A needs in the body … such as similar antioxidant or nutrigenomic effects in the body.
Since the plant-food sources of beta-carotene and lycopene contain many other nutrients, it is not clear that either carotene compound is solely responsible for the possible anti-LUTS benefits of diets rich in them.
  • Maserejian NN, Giovannucci EL, McVary KT, McKinlay JB. Dietary, but not supplemental, intakes of carotenoids and vitamin C are associated with decreased odds of lower urinary tract symptoms in men. J Nutr. 2011 Feb;141(2):267-73. Epub 2010 Dec 22.
  • Maserejian NN, Giovannucci EL, McVary KT, McGrother C, McKinlay JB. Dietary macronutrient and energy intake and urinary incontinence in women. Am J Epidemiol. 2010 May 15;171(10):1116-25. Epub 2010 Apr 25.
  • Maserejian NN, Giovannucci EL, McKinlay JB. Dietary macronutrients, cholesterol, and sodium and lower urinary tract symptoms in men. Eur Urol. 2009 May;55(5):1179-89. Epub 2008 Aug 3.
  • Wong SY, Lau WW, Leung PC, Leung JC, Woo J. The association between isoflavone and lower urinary tract symptoms in elderly men. Br J Nutr. 2007 Dec;98(6):1237-42. Epub 2007 Jul 19.
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