For a lot of guys, the seat of their manhood isn't where most women might imagine. It's in a relatively small gland, called the prostate, normally only a couple inches in diameter and weighing a scant 11 grams. The prostate secretes a milky fluid that contributes to the volume of semen. Its alkaline pH enables sperm to survive in the acidic environment of the vagina-biology's effort to boosts the odds of conception.
But because of the gland's location-just below the bladder and surrounding the urethra-prostate disorders can ricochet. When prostate disease squeezes or irritates the urethra, the resulting symptoms can include a sudden urge to urinate, dribbling, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Worse, repeatedly getting up at night to go to the bathroom can rob men of important sleep.
In most men, the prostate starts to enlarge by around age 40. This condition, called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is a noncancerous growth of the gland, although it may sometimes be a prelude to prostate cancer. Another troublesome condition is prostatitis, or inflammation of the prostate, which can affect men of any age.
The good news is that many prostate issues can be prevented or lessened through diet, lifestyle, and supplements. From a dietary standpoint, it's important to consume a lot of vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients.
Doctors at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have identified some of the dietary habits that influence BPH risk. High intake of red meat and dietary fat increases the odds of developing BPH, whereas eating lean protein and vegetables is associated with a lower risk. In addition, dietary intake of lycopene and zinc, as well as supplemental intake of vitamin D, appear to lower the risk of BPH.
Lycopene. The prostate contains cellular receptors specifically for lycopene, a red antioxidant found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, and pink grapefruit. Such receptors suggest the importance of lycopene in prostate health. In one study, German researchers asked 40 men with BPH to take 15 mg of lycopene daily for six months. Prostate growth stopped in men taking lycopene supplements, whereas prostate size increased by almost 25 percent among men taking placebos. Furthermore, the majority of men taking lycopene benefited from decreases in prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a marker of prostate cancer risk.
Cranberry.In another study, researchers in the Czech Republic treated 42 men with lower urinary tract symptoms characteristic of BPH. The men also had elevated PSA levels. Doctors provided the men with either 1,500 mg of dried cranberry fruit or placebos daily for six months, after which their health was reevaluated. The men taking dried cranberries had significant reductions in urinary symptoms, lower PSA levels, and improvements in overall quality of life. Men taking placebos had no significant improvements.
Saw palmetto. Extracts from the berries of Serenoa repens have long been a treatment for BPH in Europe. The berries are rich in a plant sterol known as beta-sitosterol and antioxidant flavonoids. Although studies have yielded conflicting results, considerable evidence does support the use of saw palmetto for BPH. Timothy J. Wilt, MD, and his colleagues at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center analyzed the results of 18 studies of saw palmetto that included almost 3,000 men. The analysis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that "extracts from the saw palmetto plant, S. repens, improve urinary tract symptoms and (urine) flow measures in men with BPH." Wilt added that saw palmetto produced results similar to that of the leading drug used to treat BPH. The herbal extract had one other benefit: it caused erectile dysfunction in only 1 percent of men, whereas the drug resulted in impotence in 5 percent of men.
Pygeum and Stinging Nettle. These two herbs are often used in combination. In a European study, researchers asked 134 patients to take capsules containing extracts of both herbs. After 28 days, urine flow, residual urine, and nighttime urination were significantly reduced. Both pygeum and stinging nettle contain large amounts of beta-sitosterol.
Prostatitis literally means "prostate inflammation." While it can be caused by a bacterial infection, often it's not. Worse, nonbacterial prostatitis may be persistent, lasting months or even years.
Sometimes prostatitis symptoms are very similar to BPH, causing an urgent need to urinate, frequent urination, and dribbling. More often, prostatitis results in pain when urinating, painful ejaculations, or more generalized pain in the groin or pelvic area. A physician can help distinguish prostatitis from BPH.
Quercetin, an antioxidant found in the skins of apples and red onions, may help resolve nonbacterial prostatitis. In one study, men with prostatitis took 500 mg of quercetin twice daily for a month. Two-thirds of the men had at least a 25 percent reduction in symptoms. When researchers added bromelain and papain, two other supplements known for their anti-inflammatory benefits, 82 percent of the patients benefited.
Other anti-inflammatory supplements, such as curcumin(a compound from the spice turmeric) and omega-3 fish oils, could help as well. An article in Alternative & Complementary Therapies noted that, in bacterial prostatitis, zinc supplements may enhance the effectiveness of antibiotics. Non-nutritional therapies might provide benefits as well, including prostate massage (done by a urologist) and physical therapy to exercise the pelvic area.
Protective Supplements for Prostate Cancer
Almost 20 years ago, Edward Giovannucci, MD, of the Harvard Medical School, reported that diets high in lycopenewere associated with a substantially lower risk of prostate cancer. Tomato sauces and raw tomatoes combined with fatty foods appeared to reduce the risk compared with tomato juice or raw tomatoes. The reason is that cooking tomatoes breaks down the cell matrix and enhances the bioavailability of lycopene. And because lycopene is fat-soluble, eating it with a little fat enhances its absorption.
Dozens of studies have confirmed the association between lycopene intake and a lower risk of prostate cancer. And several small studies of lycopene supplements have found modest benefits in men with prostate cancer. In a yearlong study, researchers reported that taking 4 mg of lycopene daily helped prevent the progression of a precancerous prostate condition to actual cancer.
Larger amounts of lycopene might have therapeutic benefits in prostate cancer. Researchers at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit followed the health of 26 men scheduled for prostate cancer surgery. Fifteen of the men were given 30 mg of natural-source lycopene daily. After three weeks they showed signs of tumor regression.
Other research has focused on inositol hexaphosphate (IP-6) in many types of cancer. In preclinical studies conducted at the University of Colorado, IP-6 led to significantly reduced tumor sizes. Tumor shrinkage resulted from cutting off the blood supply to prostate tumors.
Like it or not, BPH and prostate cancer are age-related issues that many men will have to face. The best approach to reducing risk is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet. And adding some supplements may provide extra dietary and biochemical insurance.
Irwin NaturalsProsta-Strong provides synergistic support with a formula that includes pygeum, saw palmetto, quercetin, and Lyc-O-Mato.
NatrolQuercetin delivers the amount of anti-inflammatory quercetin (500 mg) that has been shown to be beneficial in research.
Reserveage NutritionProstate Science is formulated with a combination of ingredients, including saw palmetto, that are known to benefit the prostate.
SolarayPygeum & Saw Palmetto with CranActin features a cranberry extract (CranActin) along with two prostate-supportive herbs.
WakunagaKyolic Prosta-Logic combines saw palmetto, pygeum, and Lyc-O-Mato lycopene in one well-rounded formula.
Super Shopping Tip: The Best Lycopene
Tomato-source lycopene is somewhat of a misnomer because it actually contains a complex of related antioxidants. Although lycopene might exert the greatest protective effect on the prostate, the sum of the entire complex may be greater than its parts. When shopping for lycopene supplements, look for those containing Lyc-O-Mato, a proprietary tomato lycopene complex that contains the full complement of tomato carotenoids and other antioxidants.
lycopene: it's found in tomatoes, as well as watermelon, apricots, guava, and pink grapefruit
quercetin: a natural anti-inflammatory, this nutrient eases prostatitis
stinging nettle: famous as an allergy aid, this herb is also used for enlarged prostate
saw palmetto: it's a natural treatment for BPH-and can also help reverse hair loss in men
dried cranberry: one study showed that the fruit lowered PSA levels
Jack Challem, BA, ASN, is one of America's most trusted nutrition and health writers and a member of the American Society for Nutrition. Based in Tucson, Ariz., he is the bestselling author of more than 20 books, including No More Fatigue and The Food-Mood Solution. His website is nutritionreporter.com.