Canadians are some of the healthiest people in the world; but many Canadian men unknowingly are not as healthy as they could be and we want to change that! Small actions like, healthy eating, regular physical activity and supplementation can have significant impacts on preventing chronic diseases, especially those of the prostate. In this article, we dive into prostate health deeper and arm you with the tools you need to better prostate health!
Let's Talk Male Hormones
Proper hormone function for men determines sexual health, fertility, energy levels and overall vitality. Before we get into the nitty gritty details about the prostate, lets first get some background on the main male hormones.
2 Main Male Hormones:
- Testosterone - Testosterone has a direct effect on skeletal growth, sexual development, sperm development and sex drive. About 5-6 mg of testosterone is secreted per day.
- Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) - DHT is the active form of testosterone and up to 10% of testosterone in the body is converted into DHT by the enzyme, 5-alpha reductase. DHT is required for the development of the prostate gland, urethra and scrotum and plays a role in the general characteristics of males, like deeper voices and body hair. However, after puberty, DHT generally has undesirable effects like, male pattern baldness and hair thinning. 5-alpha reductase inhibitors (main drugs on the market right now for men’s health) can stop testosterone from being converted into DHT and help to suppress these undesirable effects.
What Is The Prostate?
The prostate is a small gland located within the male reproductive system. The prostate has two very important responsibilities in the body: (1) Secretes fluid that provides nutrients and protection to sperm (2) Carries the urethra (carries urine flow out of the body), which runs through the center of the prostate. This is why we often see problems with urination in individuals suffering from some sort of prostate condition.
What are the main health conditions directly related to the prostate?
1. Prostatitis involves inflammation of the prostate gland, which can be either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). This condition can also be either bacterial in origin (infection caused by a particular bacteria, like chlamydia) or non-bacterial (caused by stress or low testosterone levels).
- Symptoms include: chronic pain in the abdominal cavity, pain on urination, increased urinary frequency, especially at night, lower back pain, fatigue and sexual dysfunction.
2. Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) - This condition signifies an enlarged prostate gland. As the prostate gets larger, it puts pressure on the urethra, which runs through the middle of the prostate, leading to problems with urination. BPH occurs in almost all men as they age. More than 50% of men over 75 years of age experience symptoms of BPH.
- Symptoms Include: urinary frequency, waking up to urinate at night, weak urine stream, trouble starting urine flow and a sense of incomplete urination.
3. Prostate Cancer - Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed male cancer and the sixth leading cause of cancer related death among men worldwide.
- Symptoms include: difficulty urinating and lower abdominal pain. Upon physical examination with a doctor, the prostate will often feel like a rock.
What tests are used for determining the health of the prostate?
1. Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) - DRE is used to determine the size, hardness and immobility of the prostate.
2. PSA Test (Bloodwork) - PSA (Prostate specific antigen) is a tumour marker that circulates in the blood. After having your blood work tested, PSA levels of 1-4 ng/mL are considered to be within normal limits; 4-10 ng/mL warrant further investigation (trans-rectal ultrasound) and anything >10 ng/mL may indicate the presence of prostate cancer, which may be diagnosed through a biopsy.
There is however much debate around how sensitive the PSA test is. It is important to note that, as men age, the prostate tends to enlarge, raising PSA levels in the blood. This spike in PSA can be caused by both cancerous and non-cancerous (BPH, UTI’s, prostatitis and recent sexual activity) conditions. Only about 1 in 4 abnormal PSA results is due to a cancerous condition, which indicates the high rate of false positives with PSA testing.
What Are Some Naturopathic Treatments To Support The Prostate?
Susceptibility to prostate conditions are partly inherited and partly linked to lifestyle choices. So making the right dietary and lifestyle changes along with some supplementation can be useful when it comes to optimal prostate health.
1. Dietary Changes:
- Limit red meat. Frying meat can create a carcinogenic chemical that can increase the risk of prostate cancer.
- Increase protein content. Low protein in the body can stimulate the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, which is responsible for causing an enlarged prostate.
- Include more Fatty acids - Fish and flax seeds provide essential fatty acids (EFA’s) that act as natural anti-inflammatories and are important in prostate function. Individuals who have BPH often have an EFA deficiency.
- Include more Pumpkin seeds - High in zinc, free fatty acids and plant sterols which all help with the health of the prostate.
2. Lifestyle Changes:
- No smoking. Cigarettes have toxins that prevent the absorption of zinc. Zinc is a natural 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, which can be used to shrink the prostate gland.
- Limit alcohol intake. Heavy drinking, especially beer can increase the risk for prostate cancer. Beer is known to increase prolactin levels which increases testosterone uptake in the prostate, and therefore increases DHT levels. It also puts you at a higher risk of developing a zinc and other nutrient deficiencies.
- Lower exposure to pesticides. Pesticides have been shown to increase the activity of 5-alpha reductase. Choose organic fruits and veggies whenever possible (especially if you are eating one of the dirty dozen), and thoroughly wash all produce before eating.
- Vitamin D - Low levels of Vitamin D may put you at a higher risk for developing prostate cancer.
- Food sources of vitamin D: Cod liver oil, fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines). Mostly derived from the sun!
- Recommended dose: Get your levels checked first to see how much you should be taking.
- Zinc - The prostate is known to concentrate zinc more than any other organ in the body. Zinc supplements have been shown to reduce the size of the prostate gland. It also inhibits the enzyme 5-alpha reductase so there is less conversion of testosterone to DHT, which minimizes all those unwanted side effects mentioned earlier. Individuals who are deficient in zinc also have higher incidences of BPH, prostatitis and prostate cancer.
- Food sources of zinc include: nuts and pumpkin seeds.
- Dose: 80 mg/day
- Lycopene - Lycopenes are strong antioxidants found in tomatoes. It has been linked to lower the risk of prostate cancer.
- Food sources of lycopene include: apricots, guava, watermelon and papaya.
- Recommended dose: 15 mg/day
4. Botanical Herbs:
- Saw Palmetto - Is an herb that has been shown to improve the signs and symptoms of an enlarged prostate by inhibiting the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, which like we talked about before helps to lower levels of DHT, thus lowering inflammation in the prostate. It can also help to lower nighttime urination.
- Pygeum africanum - Reduces testosterone and prolactin accumulation in the prostate. This herb can also lower cholesterol levels. This is important because prostate tissue affected by BPH or prostate cancer accumulate cholesterol content inside the prostate and raise inflammation. This herb has been shown to decrease urination at night, and can decrease urinary frequency and hesitancy.
It is important to stay informed about the different prostate conditions and how to best test for them so as to take charge of your health early on. Setting small, realistic goals to work towards can create more sustainable lifelong changes, especially when it comes to the prostate. Incorporate a combination of diet, lifestyle and supplement changes in your everyday life for mastering prostate health!
** Disclaimer: The advice is in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.