The world of supplements is vast, and if you’re like most people, a bit confusing and intimidating to sort through all of the information. With approximately 29,000 supplements on the market today (just in the US) and around 1,000 more added to the mix annually (also just in the US), you’d hardly be to blame. [According to the FDA]
Whether you’ve been taking supplements for years “just because” or are asking yourself whether you should be, follow our Supplement Series for an overview of the whats, whys, and whos of individual supplements. (And please read our disclaimer at the end of this post.)
What is the prostate?
Most men know basic facts about their prostate. But when it comes to its exact function, location, or the symptoms that require a visit to the doctor’s office, things start to get blurry.
Simply put, the prostate is a small gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It is located below the bladder, in front of the rectum, surrounding the urethra. It creates part of the fluid in semen, which helps carry sperm when you ejaculate.
(It’s okay if you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable at this point, but this is important information worth reading!)
What can go wrong?
Benign prostatic hyperplasia
One of the most common prostate issues is an enlarged prostate, also called benign prostatic hyperplasia (or BPH for short). It is estimated that about 8 in 10 men will develop it at some point in their lives. The good news is, only about 30% of men will experience bothersome symptoms.
The prostate is about as big as a walnut, but it grows as you age. By the time you’re in your 40s, it can get closer to the size of an apricot and might reach the size of a peach or a lemon when you’re in your 60s.
But don’t panic; this is a normal part of aging for most men. But the size to which the prostate grows and its enlargement, in general, may cause several health problems.
Symptoms of BPH usually involve urinary issues. For instance, you might feel you can’t fully empty your bladder or that you need to urinate constantly. Other times you may feel you need to urinate immediately, with no prior build-up sensation.
Because the enlarged prostate can press on the urethra, you may also stop and start urinating several times, or you may need to strain to get any flow.
Symptoms and severity vary from person to person. The size of the prostate is not an indicator of how severe your symptoms will be. The reverse is also true. Severe symptoms don’t necessarily indicate a very large prostate.
Rarely, BPH can lead to kidney issues, which is why talking to a doctor is important.
A common concern among men with BPH is sexual problems. While an enlarged prostate may cause erectile dysfunction, this is not a given. However, some of the treatments for BPH can cause problems with erections or difficulty ejaculating.
Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and whether you have other health conditions that could cause kidney issues.
Often, the approach is simply to watch and wait while also adopting a healthier lifestyle. Medicine such as alpha-blockers may be prescribed if the symptoms are severe or if there’s a risk of complications. Finally, surgery may be required when medication does not work.
A less common problem is prostatitis, an inflammation of the prostate gland. Its symptoms are similar to those of BPH, but the conditions are otherwise very different.
Unlike BPH, which only affects older men, prostatitis can happen at any age, starting in the late teens. On top of urinary issues, other symptoms could include chills, fever, and sexual problems.
Treatment requires antibiotics.
Ah, the big C.
But have no fear; none of the previous conditions puts you at risk for prostate cancer. In fact, researchers aren’t sure what leads to this type of cancer. A family history of it seems to increase your chances, as well as an unhealthy lifestyle, but neither guarantee you’ll get it.
Prostate cancer screening is a highly controversial topic. Why is that? Firstly, due to the possibility of a false-positive result. Secondly, the screening may also cause problems such as blood in semen, pain, or even infection.
For this reason, it is recommended that men over 40 discuss with their doctor whether the benefits of cancer screening outweigh the risks. The American Cancer Society recommends talking to a doctor after the age of 50 for those with low to moderate risk of cancer. For those with a higher risk, such as African-American men or those with a 1st-degree relative who had cancer, these discussions should start around the age of 40.
Ultimately, you and your doctor can decide the best course of action together.
Symptoms of prostate cancer include trouble urinating, blood in urine, blood in semen, erectile dysfunction, losing weight without trying, or bone pain.
Maintaining a healthy prostate
Yes, the gradual enlargement of the prostate is a natural aging process. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do to maintain prostate health. Quite the opposite!
Regular check-ups and discussing with your doctor as soon as you start having concerning symptoms are a must to avoid complications.
But you can do things at home to help decrease your chances of developing any prostate conditions.
For instance, you can start by adopting a healthy lifestyle. This doesn’t need to be complicated. You do not need to cut out all your favorite foods and start working out three hours a day, seven days a week. It’s more simple than that!
Diet tips for prostate health:
To help prostate health, include five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. For instance, don’t skip the salad at lunch or dinner and have some fruit as snacks in between meals.
Try to limit red meat. A serving every now and then won’t hurt, but do not make it a daily staple.
If you like bread and pasta, go for the whole grain options.
Cut down salt. This doesn’t just mean the salt you add to your food. It is more about limiting or avoiding canned and heavily processed foods, which are usually loaded with salt.
Sugary beverages such as sodas or store-bought fruit juices should also be limited. Opt for raw fruit or, even better, juice fruits and veggies yourself.
Exercising for prostate health
In addition to eating a healthy diet, regular exercise can help decrease the risk of developing a prostate problem such as BPH.
There aren’t many studies to assess the exact effects of exercise on prostate health. The ones that do exist suggest that men who exercise regularly develop fewer symptoms of BPH, if any. When symptoms appear, they are usually later in life than those who do no exercise, who tend to get them at a younger age.
You do not need to exercise vigorously. Moderate exercise is enough. This could mean taking a long walk each day, light jogging, hitting the gym, or playing your favorite sports.
Supplements for a healthy prostate
When talking about prostate health, we can’t forget supplements.
Saw palmetto is one of the most common ingredients in prostate supplements, and for a good reason. It has an anti-inflammatory role, and it helps reduce symptoms of BPH. There is also some evidence that saw palmetto might help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. While research in this area is limited and mostly done on animals, the results are promising.
Lycopene from tomatoes has also been shown to affect prostate health positively. Specifically, it seems lycopene could lower the risk of prostate cancer.
Vitamin E, Zinc, Selenium, and Copper also support a healthy prostate. For instance, one study found that Selenium can decrease prostate cancer risk, especially in former and current smokers.
Green tea leaf extract and broccoli help protect the prostate, as they both have anti-cancer properties.
The bottom line
The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system and can naturally become enlarged with age, leading to several unpleasant symptoms. Other prostate conditions can appear more rarely, such as prostatitis or even cancer.
Regular check-ups are a great line of defense. But that’s not the only thing you can do. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and the correct supplements can help decrease your risks of developing a prostate condition. They may also help alleviate symptoms of conditions like BPH.
If you’d like to help improve prostate function without the side effects of typical medication, check out our Prostate Support Complex.
This blog post does not provide health or medical advice. This blog post is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health or medical advice. Before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate medical and healthcare professionals. We do not provide any kind of health or medical advice. The use or reliance of any information contained on this blog is solely at your own risk.