The prostate is a small gland that can cause big problems for men. Located just under the bladder, the prostate is part of the male reproductive system. The prostate encircles the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder outside the body) and produces and secretes a nutrient-rich fluid that protects and helps transport sperm.
Weighing less than an ounce, the prostate is prone to three disorders: cancer, prostatitis, and enlargement. Prostate cancer is now the second leading cancer killer for men. Prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate that is often, but not always, due to bacterial infection. And enlargement, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is the most common prostate affliction.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
“Benign” means noncancerous and “hyperplasia” means excessive growth of tissue. BPH is the result of small noncancerous growths inside the prostate. It is not known what causes these growths, but they may be related to hormone changes that naturally occur as men age. By age 60, more than half of all American men have signs of BPH, and by age 70, more than 40 percent will have enlargement that can be felt on physical examination.
A normal prostate is about the size of a walnut. By the time a man is age 40, the prostate may already have grown to the size of an apricot; by the age of 60, it may be as big as a lemon. BPH, which sometimes affects sexual function, is a troublemaker because the prostate, as it enlarges, presses against the bladder and the urethra, blocking urine flow.
A man suffering with BPH may find it difficult to initiate a urine stream or to maintain a strong urine stream. He also may need to urinate frequently, or he may have a sudden, powerful urge to urinate. Many men are forced to get up several times a night to urinate; while others have the feeling that the bladder is never completely empty.
Straining to empty the bladder can make matters worse. As the bladder stretches, the bladder wall thickens and loses its elasticity, and the bladder muscles become less efficient. The pool of urine that collects in the bladder can foster urinary tract infections, and trying to force a urine stream can produce backpressure that eventually damages the kidneys.
BPH sometimes leads to other problems. For instance, a completely blocked urethra is a medical emergency requiring immediate catheterization, a procedure in which a tube is inserted into the bladder to allow urine to escape. Other serious potential complications of advanced BPH include bladder stones and bleeding.
There are three basic treatment options for BPH: making lifestyle changes, taking medication, and undergoing surgery. The treatment chosen usually depends on the severity of the symptoms. If a man’s symptoms are mild, his doctor may recommend periodic checkups and lifestyle changes like cutting down on caffeinated drinks, going easy on salt and spices, and eating dinner earlier in the evening to give the body a chance to fully eliminate fluids before bedtime. If BPH symptoms are moderate and lifestyle changes are not effective enough, a physician may opt for medication in addition to lifestyle changes. (The two forms of medication commonly prescribed are alpha-blockers and 5-alpha reductase.) Surgery is also an option in more advanced cases.
Four Prostate-Friendly Ingredients
Scientific studies suggest there may be a natural way to help maintain prostate health.
Lycopene is the compound responsible for making tomatoes red. It’s also a powerful antioxidant, which is the reason nutritionists and doctors encourage men to get more tomato-based foods in their diets. Researchers have also made the connection between lycopene and prostate health. In one study, Harvard University researchers found that men with the highest intake of lycopene had a 21% lower risk of prostate cancer than men with lower lycopene intake.1 This connection was supported by follow up research.2,3
Saw palmetto is commonly used to support prostate health.4-7 It is believed that saw palmetto berry has the ability to reduce the level of DHT in the prostate by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for changing testosterone to DHT.6(DHT is a hormone that binds to prostate cells which causes those cells to multiply and enlarge the prostate.) Second, saw palmetto has been shown to reduce prostate growth by blocking DHT from binding to prostate cells—so the DHT can’t stimulate those cells to multiply. Third, saw palmetto has anti-inflammatory properties, which helps reduce the swelling of an enlarged prostate.
Researchers have reported that saw palmetto can be helpful in treating symptoms associated with BPH. For example, in one study, men who receive saw palmetto for 6 months experienced better urinary flow than those taking a placebo.8 These results were consistent with another study in which men took saw palmetto for 6 months. Those who used saw palmetto berry experienced less pain in urination, less frequent nighttime awakenings, and an increase in urinary flow rate beginning at two months.9
Pumpkin seed has also been used to support prostate health. In one research study published in the British Journal of Urology, saw palmetto berry and pumpkin seed extract were combined and tested in a double-blind study involving 55 men. The results showed those who used saw palmetto and pumpkin seed experienced reduced discomfort in urination, less frequent night awakenings, and an increase in urinary flow-rate.10
Zinc has been associated with relieveing BPH. First it inhibits the activity of the 5-AR enzyme, thereby reducing the amount of DHT in the prostate. It is interesting to note that the prostate contains 10 times more zinc than any other body organ. It is easy to see why zinc promotes a healthy prostate.
1. Giovannucci E, Ascherio A, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Willett WC.Intake of carotenoids and retinol in relation to risk of prostate cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 6;87(23):1767-76, 1995.
2. Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Liu Y, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. A prospective study of tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 6;94(5):391-8, 2002.
3. Tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk. Miller EC, Giovannucci E, Erdman JW Jr, Bahnson R, Schwartz SJ, Clinton SK. Urology Clinical North America, 29(1):83-93, 2002.
4. Boon H, Westlake K, Stewart M, Gray R, Fleshner N, Gavin A, Brown JB, Goel V.Use of complementary/alternative medicine by men diagnosed with prostate cancer: prevalence and characteristics. Urology, 62(5):849-53. 2003.
5. Gordon AE, Shaughness, L. Saw palmetto for prostate disorders. American Family Physician. 67(6):1281-3, 2003.
6. Habib FK, Ross M, Ho CK, Lyons V, Chapman K. Serenoa repens (Permixon) inhibits the 5alpha-reductase activity of human prostate cancer cell lines without interfering with PSA expression. International Journal of Cancer, 114(2):190-4, 2005.
7. Wilt TJ, Ishani A, Rutks I, MacDonald R. Phytotherapy for benign prostatic hyperplasia. Public Health Nutrition, 3(4A):459-72, 2000.
8. Gerber GS, Kuznetsov D, Johnson BC, Burstein JD. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of saw palmetto in men with lower urinary tract symptoms. Urology. 58(6):960-4; 2001.
9. Gerber GS, Zagaja GP, Bales GT, Chodak GW, Contreras BA.Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) in men with lower urinary tract symptoms: effects on urodynamic parameters and voiding symptoms. Urology. 1998 Jun;51(6):1003-7.
10. Carbin BE, Larsson B, Lindahl O. Treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia with phytosterols. British Journal of Urology, 66(6):639-41, 1990.
The information presented above is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to be used to diagnose or treat any medical conditions or diseases or to substitute for qualified medical advice. Consult your physician before starting a weight management or exercise program.