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Prostate gland problems are surprisingly common, with an estimated one in two men thought to experience them at some point in their lives.

Prostate gland problems are surprisingly common, with an estimated one in two men thought to experience them at some point in their lives. And it isn’t just older men who are affected either (though in general the risk of prostate problems gets higher the older you get, particularly after the age of 50).
 

But what is the prostate exactly?

A walnut-sized gland found in the pelvis, the prostate gland lies between the penis and the bladder, and is wrapped around the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder down through the penis). It’s important for a man’s sex life, and produces prostatic fluid, which is a fluid found in semen. The trouble is, while prostate problems are common, studies suggest few men are prostate aware: according to Prostate Cancer UK, 70 per cent of men aged 45 and older know nothing about their prostate.

There are three common prostate conditions, namely prostate cancer, prostate enlargement and inflammation of the prostate (or prostatitis):

  • Prostate cancer
    More than 40,000 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year, which makes it the most common male cancer. One man in the UK dies from prostate cancer every hour (that’s the equivalent of 10,000 deaths each year). It gets more common as men get older, and is rare under the age of 45.

  • Enlarged prostate
    According to the NHS, more than a third of all men aged 50 and older will have some symptoms of prostate enlargement, which is also called benign prostate hyperplasia (or BPH). It doesn’t cause cancer, but the symptoms can have a detrimental effect on your quality of life.

  • Prostatitis
    Inflammation or infection of the prostate, prostatitis mostly affects men aged between 30 and 50, but can affect men of any age.


All three prostate conditions cause so-called ‘waterworks’ problems, such as needing to urinate more frequently and having difficulties starting or stopping urinating.

 If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, the good news is they’re more likely to be caused by BPH than by prostate cancer. It is, however, essential to see your GP if you’re having any urination problems before using any self-help measures or natural remedies.


Non-cancerous prostate conditions

Benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate, and prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) are common non-cancerous prostate conditions, the most common being BPH. When the prostate gland becomes enlarged owing to an overgrowth of cells, it puts pressure on both the bladder and the urethra. If this happens you may find it difficult to start urinating or have a weak urine flow, plus you may feel the urge to urinate frequently because you’re not emptying your bladder fully and there may be dribbling before and after urinating. Other symptoms of BPH include blood in the urine (haematuria).

Experts still aren't sure why some men suffer from prostate enlargement while others don't. But may believe it has something to do with the changes in hormone levels that men experience as they get older.

And while many of the symptoms of BPH are similar to those of some types of prostate cancer, having BPH doesn't increase your risk of developing prostate cancer (men with BPH have a similar risk of developing prostate cancer as men without BPH).

Experts still aren't sure why some men suffer from prostate enlargement while others don't. But may believe it has something to do with the changes in hormone levels that men experience as they get older.

And while many of the symptoms of BPH are similar to those of some types of prostate cancer, having BPH doesn't increase your risk of developing prostate cancer (men with BPH have a similar risk of developing prostate cancer as men without BPH).


Treating BPH

If your symptoms are mild, you may not need any treatment at all, though moderate-to-severe BPH is usually treated with prescription medicines that help shrink the enlarged prostate gland or relax the bladder muscles. Surgical treatments are usually only recommended to men with severe prostate enlargement symptoms.
 

Prostatitis

Inflammation of the prostate gland causes similar symptoms to BPH such as a frequent need to urinate and difficulty starting to urinate. But it causes other symptoms too, including pelvic and/or testicular pain, pain during ejaculation and pain in the area between the anus and the back of the scrotum, called the perineum (this can be worse when sitting for a long time). Pain during urination can also be a symptom, but it’s less common and more likely to be caused by a urinary tract infection.

The good news is prostatitis is relatively easily treated, and most men will recover within a few weeks or months (though some may have symptoms for longer). Over-the-counter painkillers are usually recommended to reduce the pain of prostatitis, plus another prescription medicine helps relax the muscles in the prostate gland and in the base of the bladder. You may also receive a course of antibiotics.


Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is rare in men under the age of 45 but becomes more common with age. According to Cancer Research UK, it develops when a single cell in the prostate begins to multiply out of control and forms a tumour. The problem is that it usually develops so gradually, you may not realise you have it until it enlarges to such an extent that it starts to cause symptoms – which can take several years.

The symptoms of prostate cancer are often similar to those of BPH, including urinating more frequently, especially at night, and straining to urinate or taking a long time to finish. Less common symptoms include blood in the urine or semen, erectile dysfunction and pain in the lower back, pelvis and legs.


Are you at risk?

Experts believe there are several things that may increase your risk of developing prostate cancer, including your age, family history and genetics, weight, how much you exercise, your diet and your ethnic background:

  • Age
    As you get older, your risk for prostate cancer – which mainly affects men who are 50 and over – increases (the average age for men diagnosed with the disease is between 70 and 74 years).

  • Family history and genetics
    If your father or brother has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, your risk is two and a half times higher than that of a man with no affected relatives (if they were under 60 when they were diagnosed, your risk may be even higher). You may also have a higher prostate cancer risk if you have close relatives who’ve had breast cancer associated with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene faults.

  • Ethnicity
    Your risk of developing prostate cancer is twice that of a white British or Asian man if you’re black and living in the UK (figures suggest one in four black British men will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lives, whereas the risk for white and Asian British men is one in eight). Experts don’t know why this happens, but some think the answer is in the genes.
     

Lifestyle According to the NHS, men who exercise regularly have been found to have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. This may or may not be linked to research that also suggests there’s a link between prostate cancer and obesity. Diet too may play a part – some experts, for instance, believe eating a lot of calcium may increase your risk of developing the disease.


How is it treated?

If you’re diagnosed with prostate cancer, you may not need any treatment at all if the cancer is at an early stage and you’re not having any symptoms.

If, however, you need treatment, it will depend on a variety of factors such as the type and size of the tumour, whether or not it has spread to other parts of your body and what your general health is like. Treatments include surgery to remove the prostate, radiotherapy and hormone therapy.

The good news is 90 per cent of men diagnosed at an early stage – that is, stage 1 or stage 2 – will live at least five more years and 65 to 90 per cent will live for at least 10 more years.

There’s lots more information about prostate cancer, including the different stages, on the Cancer Research UK website.


Keeping your prostate healthy

The fitter and healthier you are, the lower your risk of developing a prostate condition such as BPH or prostate cancer. Here are some of the things you could do to help keep your prostate as healthy as possible:

  • Eat really healthily
    Experts believe eating lots of dairy foods and red meat may increase your risk of developing BPH. Men who live in Mediterranean countries also have a relatively low rate of prostate cancer, which may be a result of what they eat. Fruit, vegetables, garlic, olive oil, fish and particularly tomatoes may have a protective effect against prostate cancer (a plant chemical in tomatoes called lycopene is thought to be linked with positive prostate health).

  • Eating a healthy diet
    A healthy, balanced diet can help keep your weight down, which may reduce your risk of prostate cancer too. Aim to get at least five portions of fruit and vegetables in your diet every day, and opt for non-red meat protein sources, such as chicken, fish and beans/pulses. Also try to aim for three portions of oily fish a week, such as sardines, mackerel, salmon and pilchards, and include selenium-rich foods in your diet too (eg. Brazil nuts, seafood, brown rice, broccoli and onions).

  • Maintain your weight
    The NHS claims research suggests a link between obesity and prostate cancer, so aim to keep your weight as steady as possible.

  • Quit smoking
    According to the American Cancer Society, men who’ve already had prostate cancer may have a higher risk of the cancer returning if they smoke, while smokers are more likely to have an aggressive form of prostate cancer compared with non-smokers.

  • Stay active
    Men who exercise regularly are thought to have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer and BPH, so aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week (that’s the equivalent of five 30-minute sessions a week of any exercise that raises your heart rate and makes you break into a sweat).

  • Drink up
    Some experts believe Japanese and Chinese men have lower levels of prostate cancer than those in the West because they drink green tea – but according to Prostate Cancer UK you may have to drink around six cups of green tea a day to receive any prostate health benefits. It’s currently thought that alcohol has no effect on prostate cancer, but according to the NHS men with BPH may be advised to drink less alcohol and less caffeine.

 


Natural supplements for prostate health

Besides making lifestyle changes to keep your prostate healthy, there are a few natural supplements that may help to relieve your symptoms if your prostate is enlarged:


Saw palmetto

A native plant of North America, saw palmetto contains a wide range of biologically active chemicals. It’s also an accepted medical treatment for BPH in a number of countries, including France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and New Zealand, since there’s much evidence that it may improve BPH symptoms. Some studies suggest it is at least as effective as conventional BPH treatments, but without their side effects (i). Experts advise taking saw palmetto for four to six weeks before you notice any benefits.


Beta sitosterol

A mixture of cholesterol-like compounds called sitosterols and sitosterolins, beta-sitosterol is principally used for the treatment of BPH. Studies suggest taking bita-sitosterol may help reduce some BPH symptoms, including urine flow problems (ii) – though experts can’t yet explain how.


Zinc

An important mineral found in all of the body’s cells, zinc is widely acknowledged as a key nutrient for prostate health. As such, it is often commonly recommended for prostate problems in both Europe and the US. In one study, for instance, 74 percent of men who took a zinc supplement found their enlarged prostate glands had become smaller (iii). Experts recommend avoiding taking supplements containing 30mg or more of zine, as doses of this level can deplete copper levels in the body.


Fish oils

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils are thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect, so may be helpful in cases of BPH – particularly if your diet is low in omega-3s. There is also some evidence that men with BPH have lower-than-normal omega-3 levels (iv).


Vitamin D

Some researchers believe there may be a link between vitamin D and prostate cancer, with one study having discovered that men with the lowest levels of vitamin D may have a higher risk of dying from prostate cancer than those with the highest levels (v). Low levels of vitamin D have also been associated with BPH (vi).

 


References:

  1. , , , et al. Comparison of phytotherapy (Permixon) with finasteride in the treatment of benign prostate hyperplasia: a randomized international study of 1,098 patients. Prostate. ;29:231-240.
    , , , et al. Comparison of a phytotherapeutic agent (Permixon) with an alpha-blocker (Tamsulosin) in the treatment of benignprostatic hyperplasia: a one-year randomized international study. Eur Urol. ;41:497-507.

  2. , , , et al. Randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial of beta-sitosterol in patients with benign prostatic hyperplasia. Beta-sitosterol Study Group. Lancet. ;345:1529-1532.
    , , . A multicentric, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial of beta-sitosterol (phytosterol) for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. German BPH-Phyto Study group. Br J Urol. ;80:427-432.


Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best The Pharmacy is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.