This information is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. Please seek appropriate advice from your health-care provider.
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Just to set the record straight, it’s PROSTATE, not prostRate. (To be prostrate is to lie face down.) Now that we’ve dealt with that little matter … on to the details.
Women, it often seems to be our job to watch out for the men in our lives. We women know that, as a general rule, men don’t usually like to seek help for medical problems. It becomes our responsibility to be well-read on male health so we can push them when they should be seeking professional help. Here are the basics of what you need to know about his prostate so you can be his guardian angel.
The prostate is a gland found only in males, and it is one of the leading causes of health problems in men. It is walnut-sized, doughnut-shaped, strongly muscled, and encircles the urethra just below the bladder. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder out through the penis. The urethra also carries sperm from the testicles to the outside world during orgasm.
What does the prostate gland do?
The prostate secretes prostatic fluid, making up 20 - 30% of the volume of the ejaculate, to provide added nourishment and protection for the sperm on their way out. Seminal fluid, which includes minerals (especially zinc), sugars, enzymes, proteins, prostaglandins (hormone-like messengers), and immune factors, originates in the seminal vesicles. During orgasm the muscles of the prostate push the prostatic fluid into the urethra to mix with sperm that have come up from the seminal vesicles. The nutrients and minerals feed the sperm and help to keep them strong and healthy for up to three days outside the male body while they are looking for an ovum to fertilize.
Common problems with the prostate
Some of the more common health problems relating to the prostate include prostatitis, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and cancer. Common symptoms of all of these problems include difficulty urinating, burning or pain on urination, and reduced urine flow (dribbling).
Acute prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) can affect men of all ages. Symptoms of acute prostatitis include problems with the flow of urine, burning urination, pain between the scrotum and rectum, fever, and blood or pus in the urine. Usually this condition starts with a bacterial infection elsewhere in the body that migrates to the prostate.The prostate begins to swell and puts pressure on the urethra, the flow of urine is slowed, and this can often lead to the backing up of urine into the bladder. This causes the bladder to distend and become tender, and provides an excellent breeding place for further bacterial infections. If left long enough, the infection can spread to the kidneys and cause kidney damage. In chronic prostatitis the symptoms can evolve to include low back-ache, frequent burning urination, and impotence.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a condition that affects most men at some time in their lives. Statistics show this condition is present in one-half of all 50-year-olds, 70% of all 70-year-olds, and 80% of all 80-year-olds. (I don’t like the way these numbers are going!) Some researchers have said that if all men lived long enough they would all develop BPH and/or prostate cancer. Do remember that there are several known factors that affect this condition, many of which are controllable, which means BPH may be able to be prevented, treated, and even reversed.
Specifically, what happens in BPH is that prostate cells increase their rates of replacement and/or their size while cells that should be dying off don’t. As the trend toward too many and too large cells continues, the prostate begins to grow. As it grows the inner circle of this doughnut-shaped organ gets smaller and begins to crimp the urethra. This produces the common set of symptoms, including problems starting and/or stopping the flow of urine, frequent urination (especially at night – needing to get up more than once), feelings of urinary urgency, urge incontinence, difficulty producing a good stream of urine, dribbling, and frequent urinary tract infection.
Initially, only the prostate is at risk in BPH; however, if left untreated, the ensuing damage can go beyond the prostate. While enlargement of the prostate is usually benign, left untreated the abnormal cell development can turn into cancer. Further complications include urine not being completely voided from the bladder, which can lead to bladder infections, more serious kidney infections, and eventually kidney degeneration. If the bladder has to constantly contract to try to force urine out through a partially obstructed urethra, the bladder muscles will likely weaken and incontinence will follow.
Cancer of the prostate is the most common cancer in men, occurring nearly twice as often as lung cancer. It is more prevalent in men who have had sexually transmitted diseases or prostatitis. Early symptoms of cancer are the same as for prostatitis:
- frequent urination, especially at night
- difficulty starting or stopping urination
- weak or interrupted urinary stream
- painful or burning sensation during urination or ejaculation
- blood in the urine
- problems achieving an erection
Eating a lot of fat in general can raise the testosterone level and speed the growth of prostate cancer. Exposure to toxic substances like cadmium, rubber, welding materials, and battery materials seems to increase the risk as well. Being a ‘couch potato’ also increases the risk.
Herbs and vitamins for prostate health
The list of prostate-supporting herbs is not long; however, there have been some very good controlled studies done on them, and their efficacy has been proven.
According to an article published in American Family Physician in 2003, “Saw palmetto is an herbal product used in the treatment of symptoms related to benign prostatic hyperplasia. The active component is found in the fruit of the American dwarf palm tree. Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of saw palmetto in reducing symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia. Saw palmetto appears to have efficacy similar to that of medications like finasteride, but it is better tolerated and less expensive. There are no known drug interactions with saw palmetto, and reported side effects are minor and rare. No data on its long-term usage are available.”
There are several good scientific reasons why saw palmetto works, among them being the fact that saw palmetto contains beta-sitosterol (a specific plant sterol) that has been shown to be highly effective in reducing the symptoms of BPH. Saw palmetto helps to restore the body’s healthy hormone balance.
Nettle root and pygeum are often found in herbal prostate remedies. Pygeum has actions similar to saw palmetto berries, and nettle root is an anti-inflammatory that has an affinity for the prostate.
Ginseng is another herb that can reduce the size of an enlarged prostate. It increases the levels of testosterone and blocks the action of DHT (dihydrotestosterone - a bad form of testosterone) and estrogens on cell growth.
Products for prostate health (use this link to order)
Canada: Men’s Formula (saw palmetto, stinging nettle, ginkgo biloba)
Saw Palmetto Concentrate
USA: Men’s Formula with Lycopene (saw palmetto, pumpkin seeds, pygeum bark, gotu kola, lycopene, stinging nettle root, zinc)
Over the years, low levels of zinc have been linked to prostatitis. This mineral is lost every time ejaculation happens. In BPH the recommended dose is 15 milligrams per day for six months. It must also be noted,however, that extremely high levels of zinc have also been linked to prostate cancer.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride) helps reduce prostatic enlargement by aiding in the healthy creation and conversion of hormones.
The list of vitamins that have been historically proven to be important to prostate health include:
- Vitamin A & D
- Vitamin B complex
- Vitamin C (up to 5 grams per day)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E (up to 600 iu per day)
- unsaturated fatty acids (Super Omega 3)
There are also foods that can be helpful in protecting the prostate. Pumpkin seeds are at the top of the list, being rich in zinc. Specific vegetables that offer protection include tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.
The prostate gland is vital to the health and well-being of men. Knowing the foods, herbs, and nutrients necessary for good prostate health can help us to help them take good care of themselves.
For more information about the types of products mentioned in this article, use this link.