Between the ages of 40 and 60 years, one in two men will experience swelling of the prostate, causing difficulty urinating and the feeling that they haven’t “finished”. It generally occurs in older men, but lately more and more younger men are being afflicted with prostate problems as well.
And by the time most men reach 80 years of age, 90% will have some type of prostate issue.
Most men simply think it’s a normal sign of aging that they experience more frequent trips to the bathroom and because of their reluctance to talk openly about it, often continue in silence while the problem worsens.
Difficulty urinating, getting up during the night to urinate, hesitation at the start of urination, and decreased urinary flow in aging men – known as BPH – Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy is caused by swelling of the prostate, a gland that is located below the bladder, and through which passes the urethra, the tube that takes urine out of the bladder.
Over a period of years muscle fibres may expand to the point where they are no longer capable of contracting effectively. The prostate swells and often compresses the canal, preventing the bladder from emptying properly, which gives men an unpleasant, almost permanent feeling of having to urinate, and to never being fully relieved, as actually the bladder remains partially full.
High fat diets, alcohol consumption, stress, pesticides, and other chemical contaminants contribute to these effects. Being overweight can make the symptoms and outcome worse. Physical activity such as walking 2 or 3 hours a week can reduce the symptoms by 25%.
Conventional medicine offers a number of drugs for prostate enlargement. Most are unsatisfactory in the short or long term, as they do not address the cause of the problem.
A class of drugs called alpha-adrenergic blockers, which includes Phenoxybenzamine and Doxazosin, relax the muscle tissue surrounding the bladder outlet and lining the wall of the urethra to allow urine to flow more freely. Whilst these drugs may improve the symptoms, they do not keep the prostate from enlarging, and because they chemically lower blood pressure they produce many side effects such as dizziness, lack of energy and half-mast erection at a premature age.
Other drugs such as Finasteride that prevent testosterone do shrink the prostate and reduce swelling. However there are many ill effects in reducing testosterone levels, including sexual dysfunction but also, more seriously, an increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
Doctors will often start diagnosis by measuring PSA (prostate specific antigen). This antigen measured in the blood comes from both normal and cancerous prostate tissue. As we age the prostate enlarges and so the normal range for PSA also increases. The level is also higher in black men, and some drugs such as Propecia for baldness; Statin drugs; NSAIDs for arthritis; and Thiazide diuretics also affect PSA levels. Infection, trauma and even sexual activity can also raise PSA.
Because of all of these variables, routine use of PSA as a screening tool is questionable.
Unfortunately however, most commonly, doctors recommend surgery – either complete or partial removal of the prostate gland by Prostatectomy, or a process called TURP – Transurethral Resection of the Prostate – a surgical procedure in which an electronic cutting implement is fed through the urethra to remove part of an enlarged prostate.
It seems once again, to be a case of prevention being better than cure.
There has been considerable clinical research into understanding what causes the swelling of the prostate instead of just reacting with drug treatment or surgery, and to find more efficient remedies. If you are already having prostate issues, you might be interested in changing your diet and taking extra natural food supplements.
Such research has shown the herb saw palmetto to be a powerful aid for maintaining the male physiology. Research has shown that saw palmetto inhibits the production of the enzyme 5-alphareductase, which is a catalyst for the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). By inhibiting the production of 5-alpha-reductase, saw palmetto leads to a reduction in the amount of DHT in the body, and that can be beneficial to the male physiology in maintaining overall health.
Recently, a review of the efficacy of saw palmetto supplementation in men revealed that about 80–90 % of men treated with saw palmetto in 18 randomised clinical studies showed a positive correlation between saw palmetto and the male physiology. Saw palmetto has a gentle and strengthening effect on the whole of the male reproductive and urinary systems. (Ref: Willard, T. Vitamin Retailer. Feb 1999:58-60.)
Lycopene, the most abundant carotenoid (orange or red pigments) found in pink fruits, especially tomatoes , and isoflavones are important phytonutrients. A large study in the USA showed that people who consumed more fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids and vitamin C had less risk of BPH than others.
Adequate amounts of zinc and selenium are two additional dietary factors of importance in maintaining the health of the male physiology.
Most men over the age of 50 should consider taking both saw palmetto and lycopene nutritional supplements.