One common disease among men over 50 (and now more commonly over 40) involves the prostate sex organ. This is due to a variety of factors related to the modern, or Western, stressful lifestyle with hours of sitting while driving, working at a desk, and TV watching; also eating animal flesh and milk products; consuming sugary foods and caffeine; and using alcohol regularly. This way of living found so commonly now also sets the stage for the many costly and chronic, debilitating and degenerative diseases, such as cardiovascular problems, cancer, and arthritis, as well as prostate enlargement or BPH (Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy) and prostate cancer.
The prostate is a fibro-muscular organ, about the size of two walnuts placed together, and it sits at the bottom of the man’s pelvis behind the genitals and in front of the rectum. It can be felt (palpated) with the medical “digital exam” wherein a doctor inserts his gloved and lubricated index finger in through the anus and pushes forward. We should feel the pliable yet firm lobes without any enlargement, swelling, lumps or stony material. And the patient should not feel any pain, however, it could feel uncomfortable with a pressure like you have to urinate.
Some symptoms of prostate enlargement or infection may be a pressure or swelling feeling in the perineum, or even more commonly, frequent urination and difficulty in starting or stopping urination. The urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out through the penis, passes through the prostate thus, when the prostate is swollen, it may interfere with the urine flow. There may also be some change in the urine stream or force behind the urination. Men often need to get up two or three times at night to urinate, which can also lead to sleep disturbance issues.
In addition to a physical exam, there is also a blood test that measures an antigen that is created by prostate cancer cells. It’s called the PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) and if it’s elevated, that may mean prostate cancer is present. With inflammation or infection, the PSA can also go up; thus, it may need to be double-checked and/or rechecked after a course of antibiotics to treat any potential infection. If the elevation persists, even after any infection is treated, this may require further testing, as I believe it’s always wise to find out what is going on in our body. If it’s bad news, at least we can deal with it from there. Other tests to investigate the prostate further include a prostate ultrasound (sound wave assessment of the prostate tissue) or a CAT scan x-ray, and a prostate biopsy, which is usually done by an urologist. Luckily, many prostate cancers are slow growing or have not spread outside the gland, yet they still can cause medical problems and metastasize over time.
The best overall plan, however, is to Stay Healthy and to maintain a healthy prostate. This involves staying in shape; maintaining sexual activity; getting regular exercise; managing your stress levels; taking stretch and activity breaks from long periods of sitting and computer work; eating a wholesome diet with lots of fresh veggies and quality proteins plus healthy fats; and avoiding excess substance use, especially of refined sugars, red meats, caffeine and alcohol.
Here are some more specific suggestions for prostate health:
Essential fatty acids - Make sure you get adequate amounts daily, such as two teaspoons of flaxseed oil, as well as adding fish oils and evening primrose oil.
Lycopene – with highest concentration found in tomatoes, this important phytonutrient is also found in watermelons, pink grapefruits, guava, and papaya. Lycopene also has antioxidant properties, and helps to remove free radicals and protect the body against cancer. Cooked tomato products like tomato sauce allow lycopene to be more readily absorbed by the body. In research studies, two servings of tomato sauce a week are enough to lower the risk of developing prostate cancer.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, collards, broccoli sprouts, Chinese broccoli, broccoli raab, kohlrabi, mustard greens, turnip, radish, rocket, watercress, and kale all contain sulforaphane, an anti-cancer and anti-microbial compound that helps the body repair damage caused by cancer cells while slowing down their growth. Another added benefit of eating these nutrient-rich cruciferous vegetables is the decreased risk for cardiovascular diseases while providing higher levels of vitamins and minerals that are also needed to prevent or fight cancer. The sprouts of these vegetable seeds, especially broccoli sprouts, have also been shown to have anti-cancer effects.
Avoid charring meats when cooking (especially in grilling) to reduce the levels of a cancer-causing substance known as PhIP which has been associated with the development of prostate cancer in lab animals. Slow roasting, stewing, and broiling (without charring), are likely healthier ways to cook meats.
Zinc, selenium, Coenzyme Q10, vitamins C and E, vitamins K2 and D3, and the B vitamins, particularly B6, are all important for a healthy prostate, as are a number of herbs, which can also be used to treat prostate swelling and other problems as well, including Serenoa repens and Pygeum africanum.
Saw palmetto berry (Serenoa repens) has been shown to effectively diminish pain, inflammation and enlargement of the prostate, as well as to reduce urinary urgency. It may work by inhibiting DHT (dihydro-testosterone), thereby reducing its stimulation for cell multiplication. Saw palmetto has been used for centuries and is also thought to have a mild aphrodisiac effect, as well as increasing sperm production and sexual vitality.
Pygeum (Pygeum africanum) is another useful herb from an African evergreen tree, and has been shown in research to reduce prostate enlargement and inflammation; it may also help stimulate libido. Pygeum has many natural chemicals that have anti-inflammatory and other positive effects on energy and bodily functions.
Some prostate formulas also may contain other herbs like nettle, pumpkin seed extract or oil (higher in zinc and supportive of prostate health), and beta-sitosterol, a healthy fat that also supports prostate tissue. Most men over 40-50 can benefit form the regular use of a good prostate health formula to both support this organ and prevent prostate problems.
These herbs and formulas work well and often can be tried before prescribing the popular drugs, such as Proscar or Flomax, which are fairly well tolerated and offer some for men with prostate enlargement or urinary symptoms.
Ultimately, it is conceivable that if we follow the aforementioned lifestyle advice, we can avoid treatment altogether and maintain both a healthy prostate and our sexual health and vigor. Long-term survival rate approaches 100% when prostate cancer is detected early. The ACS (American Cancer Society) recommends a PSA blood test and digital rectal examination be offered annually for men starting at age 50, although more recently it has been questioned whether this test actually helps in saving or prolonging lives. Men, who are not at high risk, but are between 40 and 50 years old, may want to do both tests every two-three years. Men in high risk groups, such as African American men, those with family histories of this disease, or with a history of rising PSA levels as well as altered levels of estrogen or testosterone, may want to begin testing at a younger age (i.e. 40-45 years).
It is far better to pick up any medical problems early, and this certainly applies to the prostate. A good web site to keep abreast of prostate cancer research and treatments is www.ProstateCancerFoundation.org. Check out the latest research and guidelines and Stay Healthy!