Progress with Prostate Problems

Going for an uncomfortable prostrate exam is a rite of passage for most men. But what do you know about this problematic gland?

The prostate is a large male gland that lies just below the neck of the bladder and around the top of the urinary tract. The primary function of the prostate is to help the semen move through the urethra during ejaculation. Because of this, it enlarges during sexual arousal. If there is prolonged arousal without ejaculation, prostate pressure on the testicles becomes very uncomfortable. Other factors can enlarge the prostate and create discomfort. Symptoms associated with enlarged prostate include frequent, painful desire to urinate, reduced flow of urine, incontinence and in extreme cases, fever, lower back pain, insomnia and fatigue. Accompanying symptoms associated with sexual dysfunction are impotence, loss of libido and possible painful ejaculation.

Contributing factors

Obesity and hormonal changes are two well-known causes of prostate enlargement. Disorders usually begin after age 35. By age 50, more than 25 percent of all men have an enlarged prostate. By age 80, the numbers grow to 80 percent. A diet high in saturated fats and low in the beneficial essential fatty acids puts people at the greatest risk. Factored in as causes are hormonal imbalance, low fiber diets, spicy foods, excessive use of alcohol and caffeine, eating meat from animals injected with hormones, prostaglandin depletion, an exhausted lymph system from chronic usage of antihistamines, a lack of exercise, zinc deficiency and venereal disease.

Enlargement of the prostate may be caused by an enzyme, 5-alpha-reductase, which interacts with testosterone and produces di-hydrotestosterone (DHT), which is primarily present in the prostate gland and strengthens the fibromuscular part of the gland. Although this is a useful function, too much DHT can cause prostate enlargement. This process is accelerated by a number of factors including the use of alcohol, zinc deficiency, and impaired liver function. Alcohol, especially beer, elevates levels of DHT in the body and thus can be a contributing factor.

An herb, saw palmetto, when taken in quantity, supports prostate health by promoting a reduction in DHT in tissue by over 40 percent. This is the same mechanism of action as the drug Proscar, the standard treatment for an enlarged prostate. But unlike Proscar, treatment with saw palmetto does not interfere with virility. Its action appears to be more gradual and it lowers DHT slightly but not so much as to interfere with erectile function. It balances the body's hormones to block painful prostate enlargement and can be an effective natural treatment. Pygeum africanum, also an herb, if taken in heavy doses, also may lower DHT levels by blocking cholesterol production.

Two growth factors have been shown to influence the size of the prostate. According to Dr. David Saul, M.D., author of Sex for Life, nitric oxide is the chemical that is ultimately responsible for the erection process and is claimed to inhibit some of the growth factors of the prostate. Made from the precursor amino acid, arginine, adequate levels of nitric oxide can help to maintain prostate health. Therefore, it is important to get sufficient protein in your diet. The second growth factor, SHBG, is a protein that binds testosterone and transports it in the bloodstream. SHBG increases with aging. Getting SHBG down to lower levels by losing weight, exercising and improving any diabetic tendency will lower the potential for this growth factor to affect the prostate.

Vasectomies also are suspect in contributing to prostate problems. Science has long debated whether risk of prostate cancer is a result of vasectomy (the contraceptive procedure which severs or seals off the vessel that carries sperm from the testes.) New studies on two large groups of men show that vasectomies increase the risk of prostate cancer. After a vasectomy, sperm builds up in the sealed off vas deferens. The body reabsorbs these cells, which confuses the immune system, making it less alert to tumor cells. It also causes the body's defenses to mount a response against its own tissue. In addition, a vasectomy affects hormone secretions in the testes and lowers prostatic fluid. When the natural movement of sperm and hormones are artificially prevented, numerous health problems may arise.

Hormonal imbalances are a primary contributor to prostate health. Testosterone supports libido and the ability to perform sexually, as well as muscle strength. The gradual decline in a man's testosterone level can create, over time, a diminished sense of manhood and virility. This can contribute to depression and typical menopausal mood swings familiar to women.

Men who have chronic constipation may create prostate problems. In a healthy person, there is space between the colon and the prostate. Constipation causes the colon to swell and push against the prostate. If this condition is chronic, bacteria from the colon can migrate through the muscles and mucous membranes of the colon and penetrate the stroma tissue surrounding the prostate. This condition is called prostatitis. Kenneth Yasny, Ph.D., in his book, Put Hemorrhoids and Constipation Behind You, gives suggestions that may alleviate constipation. Eat moist foods and drink lots of water to help waste move through your system. Eat high fiber foods that absorb moisture, and grease your intestines with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils.

Testing for prostate problems

Early identification of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a non-cancerous enlargement of the gland, and a cancerous prostate is essential for successful treatment. Tests include those that measure urine flow rate, digital rectal exams and prostatic specific antigen (PSA) blood tests. Several urology clinics across the United States hold free prostate screening clinics during Prostate Cancer Awareness Week in September. Contact your local hospital for information on their program. Saliva tests for hormone levels are available through most laboratories. Results should be obtained prior to beginning any hormone replacement therapy.

Some new research has recently been released about the PSA test and its accuracy in determining prostate cancer risk. In a study published recently in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers reported that the protein may be used by the body in battling the disease. PSA is not specific to prostates and is also found in patients with other types of cancer. The study indicated that women with advanced breast cancer who had high levels of PSA had a better prognosis. Researchers who conducted the study were working on endostatin, a protein that blocks blood vessel development in tumors. It is currently in its first phase of human trials. Noting that many cancer patients have a high level of endostatin, researchers postulated that elevated PSA levels may indicate the body is fighting cancer.

New treatment options

Normal treatment for BPH includes several therapies such as Alpha-blocker therapy that inhibits contraction of prostatic smooth muscle; Finasteride therapy (an enzyme inhibitor) that lowers androgen levels, thus reducing size of the prostate; balloon dilation of the urethra; and several surgical procedures that attempt to open the urethra. Treatments for cancer normally include removal of the prostate, radiation and chemotherapy along with reducing levels of testosterone through hormone manipulation. Unfortunately, most of these treatments do not guarantee success.

Alternative therapies seem to have better luck. Most physicians assume that prostate enlargement and cancer originate because of an over-abundance of testosterone, yet in laboratory tests testosterone was shown to shrink mice prostate tumors. When this hormone is suppressed, benefits usually last only a few years with the cancer progressing to an androgen (male hormone) insensitive state. At this time, treatment usually warrants castration or androgen-blocking drugs. The medical treatment of suppressing testosterone appears initially to be successful at lowering PSA levels but eventually "kills the prostate gland along with the cancer."

Some physicians have determined a lack of testosterone is actually the culprit. They may suggest testosterone supplementation to guard against cancer reasoning that rarely do men in their earlier years get prostate cancer when their hormone levels are high. Dr. George Debled, a French physician well known for his therapeutic use of testosterone to support the health of older men, reports extremely low rates of prostate cancer in the more than 2,000 men he has treated over two decades.

Hormonal imbalances further compromise standard prostate treatment. Estrogen dominance is not normally considered when diagnosing the cause of prostate problems. High levels of estrogen can be caused by the ingestion of xenoestrogens (such as pesticides). Aging men also produce higher levels of the enzyme aromotase, which causes more testosterone to be converted into estrogen.

A common mineral, zinc, which presently is in short supply in our food chain, has shown to partially inhibit the enzyme aromotase. Because the prostate stores high levels of zinc, it may be prudent to supplement with this mineral should tests prove a high level of estrogen is present. A deficiency in zinc may also lead to changes in the size, structure and function of the prostate. Because of its very high zinc content, bee pollen can have great value in healing the prostate gland when used as a supplement.

Progesterone as a precursor of our adrenal cortical hormones can balance estrogen levels and has an effect on testosterone levels. By adding a dosage of progesterone cream daily, PSA levels may decrease. Progesterone is an inhibitor of 5-alpha-reductase, which plays a role in converting testosterone to DHT, a contributing factor in prostate illness. Low levels of progesterone can reduce the protection and speed up this conversion. Regular aerobic exercise such as fast walking will help metabolize hormones properly and contribute to lower the estrogen to testosterone ratio, thereby helping to protect against prostate enlargement.

Dietary concerns

The American Health Federation has studied the relationship between diet and prostate cancer specifically showing that the disease was slowed with a low-fat, high-fiber diet. Studies have also shown that men in other countries who were diagnosed with prostate cancer had high estrogen levels and low testosterone levels when eating native foods. When they switched to an American diet, their estrogen levels rose even further, and their testosterone dropped even lower.

Many nutritionists are finding that there is a difference in the type of fatty acids we eat and how they affect prostate disease. Omega-3 fatty acids inhibit cancer while omega-6 stimulate it. Flaxseed oil or fresh flaxseed can be a positive addition to your prostate-health diet, while vegetable oils (especially hydrogenated oils) could be detrimental as they mainly are made up of omega-6 fatty acids. While it is necessary to maintain a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to protect your prostate, you should favor foods with omega-3. In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1997) vol. 66, studies indicated that dietary fat intake was related to prostate cancer while omega-3 fatty acids inhibited it.

In our book, Natural Solutions for Sexual Enhancement, we recommend avoiding alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, tomato juice, fried and refined foods and red meat. A specialty diet is included in Linda Page's Healthy Healing book that includes high fiber, whole grains, low fats and a cleansing with lemon juice and water. She mentions many herbal treatments. These include echinacea/goldenseal (for inflammation), white oak (to shrink swollen prostate), nettles (relieves frequent urination), hydrangea (reduces sediment), garlic (an antiseptic), and damiana (wards off infection). Vitamin A, E, C, quercetin, green tea and (rhododendron caucasicum) are effective immune builders, necessary to support any healing programs.

Green tea is high in zinc, mentioned previously as needed for prostate health. It also has anti-cancer properties and balances hormones. Soy has been reported to have anti-cancer effects and support prostate health. Unfortunately, most reports fail to clarify the type of soy eaten. To have maximum healing properties, the soybean must have begun to sproutand release its trypsin-inhibitors.

Another popular nutrient for prostate health has conflicting reports. Research has shown that lycopene, a naturally occurring phytonutrient that gives tomatoes their red color, may help prevent prostate cancer. Researchers at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit studied men who were to undergo prostate surgery. They were administered lycopene as a pure tomato extract or a placebo. The surgery consisted of removal of the prostates, which were analyzed. Results showed that the treated group had signs of tumor regression and decreased malignancy along with lower levels of serum PSA. Other studies of lycopene proved there is no correlation between tomato intake and prostate health unless the fruit is cooked and eaten with fats. Further studies may be necessary before the truth is out about lycopene and prostate health.

A little known "helper" for prostate problems is beta-sitosterol, the active ingredient in saw palmetto as well as pygeum, stinging nettle, and pumpkin seeds. According to Roger Mason, author of Beta-Sitosterol, Nature's Prostate Miracle, "numerous international scientific journals have published studies that prove that beta-sitosterol is the most effective remedy known for prostate problems. Traditionally such herbs as saw palmetto, pygeum species, nettles, star grass and other herbs have been used to treat prostate problems. The trouble with using these is that generally they only contain a mere 1 part in 3,000 of the beta-sitosterol complex. That means you would literally have to eat about a pound of saw palmetto berries to get a mere 330 mg. of beta-sitosterol. Even with the best "10x" (10 times) extracts of these herbs, one would still have to eat about 200 capsules at 500 mg. to get the 330 mg. of beta-sitosterol needed to be effective. In Europe, beta-sitosterol extracts are sold by prescription and are standardized according to the beta-sitosterol content regardless of their source."

Nina Anderson and Dr. Howard Peiper have more than 50 years of combined experience in the natural health and holistic healing fields. Dr. Howard Peiper is a nationally recognized expert in the holistic counseling field and has written books, articles and hosted radio and television shows. Nina Anderson has been a researcher and author for more than 20 years. Together they have written more than 20 books on natural health and healing.


By Nina Anderson and Howard Peiper

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