A Healthy Prostate - For Life

A Healthy Prostate -- For Life

The organ of weakness for men as they age seems to be the prostate. And the two most common conditions are enlarged prostate and cancer. Although these problems seem an inevitable part of aging for men, they do not need to be.

The prostate is a doughnut-shaped gland located beneath the bladder. It is about the size of a walnut and surrounds the urethra, the tube-like outlet of the bladder.

This gland has two major functions: to produce prostatic fluid that nourishes sperm and increases sperm motility for the fertilization of an egg, and to prevent infections of the urinary tract through its secretions.

Enlargement of the prostate, known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), affects over 50 per cent of men during their lifetime and over 90 per cent of men over the age of 85. As the prostate enlarges it pinches off the urethra. Common symptoms include frequent urination during the day, nighttime urination, reduced force of urinary stream, dribbling and an increased susceptibility to bladder infections. If BPH is allowed to progress, no urine can leave the bladder, which leads to a serious condition known as acute urinary retention. Blood tests and other exams by your doctor help to distinguish between enlarged prostate and prostate cancer.

The Hormone Connection

Similar to breast and uterine tissue in women, the prostate is a hormone-dependent gland. Previous conventional thought was that testosterone, and especially one of its metabolites, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), were to blame for prostate enlargement and/or cancer as men age.

Researchers think these two hormones stimulate the synthesis of new prostate cells and slow the death of older cells. This results in tissue that grows abnormally. New research shows that the hormonal problem is likely an imbalance between estradiol (a type of estrogen) and DHT. As men age, their estradiol levels rise in relation to DHT. It is this imbalanced ratio which appears to be the major factor in prostate cell growth.

Preventive Nutrition

As with all health conditions, nutrition is important in preventing prostate enlargement and prostate cancer. One of the most important factors is fat. Japanese men have some of the lowest rates of prostate cancer in the world and they consume far less fat than the typical North American male. When men from Japan move to North America their risk of prostate cancer dramatically increases.

Saturated fat from red meat increases the risk for prostate cancer, while the good fats from fish and vegetables are likely protective due to the omega-3 fatty acid content. Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flax seeds, flax seed oil, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

Irritants to the prostate which should be avoided or minimized include caffeine, alcohol and sugar products. Certified organic soy is an excellent food for the prostate. It contains the phytoestrogens genistein and daidzein, which have a hormone-balancing effect on the prostate tissue.

Tomatoes are also excellent food for preventing prostate cancer. A Harvard study found that eating at least 10 servings a week of tomato-based foods could reduce a man's risk of developing prostate cancer by as much as 45 per cent. The carotenoid lycopene, which gives tomatoes their red color, is found in high concentrations in the prostate and is believed to be quite valuable in preventing prostate cancer. It is also available as a supplement and is often found in prostate formulas.

Top Prostate Herbs

In Germany, the top choice amongst conventional physicians for the treatment of BPH is saw palmetto extract. Numerous studies confirm the effectiveness of saw palmetto extract in relieving symptoms of BPH without side effects. The exact mechanisms of how saw palmetto works are unclear. However, it appears to have multiple actions on the hormonal status of the prostate gland:

- Inhibits the conversion of testosterone to DHT

- Blocks DHT binding to prostate receptors

- Blocks the growth effects of estrogen on the prostate

About 85 per cent of my patients with BPH improved their symptoms dramatically by taking saw palmetto; it relieves all the symptoms of BPH, including nighttime urination. A study done in 1994 looked at 305 men who were given 320 mg of saw palmetto extract standardized to 85-95 per cent fatty acids and sterols. Eighty-eight per cent of those men taking saw palmetto reported improved symptoms within three months of use. Most men notice an improvement with saw palmetto within one to two months, and some within days!

In one large, double blind study, saw palmetto was compared to the most commonly used pharmaceutical drug for BPH, known as Proscar. The results of the six-month study showed that both were equal in effectiveness, but Proscar users reported side effects such as impotence, decreased libido and ejaculatory disorders. Saw palmetto users reported none of these effects.

The most recent study on saw palmetto took biopsies of participants' prostate tissue. They revealed a significant decrease in the growth of prostate tissue without any adverse effects. The lead investigator, Dr Leonard Marks, stated "I believe urologists may now consider saw palmetto a viable natural alternative treatment for many men with BPH."

Another useful herb used for BPH is pygeum Africanum. This is an extract from an evergreen tree native to Africa. It has a historical use by tribes of Africa for male urinary disorders. Similar to saw palmetto, it contains liposterols and fatty acids as the major active constituents. Pygeum is commonly combined with saw palmetto in prostate formulas.

The third most common herb used for the relief of BPH is stinging nettle. It has fewer studies than the saw palmetto and pygeum but is a favorite amongst herbalists in Europe and North America. Researchers have found that stinging nettle extract reduced the need to get up at night to urinate.

According to new research, sterols and sterolins (good fats found in all plants, especially kelp and other seaweed) are phytonutrients that are used in Germany successfully for BPH. They can also be taken as an extract in capsule form.

Effective Nutritional Supplements

Essential fatty acids are one of the most important supplements for prostate health. I recommend my patients take one tablespoon of flax seed oil on a daily basis. Zinc is also quite helpful to improve the symptoms of BPH and a dosage of 30-60 mg of zinc combined with a few mg of copper is helpful for most men. In addition, supplementation of natural vitamin E and selenium may offer protection to the prostate.

Simple dietary changes combined with herbal and nutritional supplements work wonders to improve overall health.

References:
1. Pienta, K et al. Epidemiology of prostate cancer: molecular and environmental clues. Urology. 1996;48:676-683.

2. Messina, MJ et al. Soy intake and cancer risk: a review of the in vitro and in vivo data. Nutr Cancer. 1994;21:113-131.

3. De Lignieres, B. Transdermal dihydrotestosterone treatment of "andropuase." Ann Med. 1993;25:235-241

4. Pollard, M et al. Dihydrotestosterone does not induce prostate adenocarcinoma in L-W rats. Prostate. 1987; 10:325-331.

Canadian Health Reform Products Ltd.

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By Mark Stengler

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