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Q: I’m a 58-year-old man and have an enlarged prostate. What can I do to cut back on nocturnal bathroom visits?
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 prostate gland, although it may sometimes be a prelude to prostate cancer. Another troublesome condition is prostatitis, which can affect men of any age.
The prostate is a relatively small gland, normally only a couple inches in diameter and weighing a scant 11 grams. But because of the gland’s location—just below the bladder and surrounding the urethra—prostate disease can squeeze or irritate the urethra. The resulting symptoms can include a sudden urge to urinate, feeling that the void is incomplete, dribbling, or even wetting one’s pants. And repeatedly getting up at night to go to the bathroom can rob a man of his sleep.
The good news is that many prostate issues can be prevented or mitigated through diet, lifestyle, and supplements.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
Doctors at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, have identified some of the dietary habits that influence the risk of BPH. 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, and 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, 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. The 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. Men taking the 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, a type of palm tree, have long been a treatment for BPH in Europe. The berries are rich in a plant sterol known as beta-sitosterol, as well as antioxidant flavonoids. Studies comparing the leading drug used to treat BPH to saw palmetto demonstrated similar results in terms of effectiveness. What’s more, saw palmetto caused erectile dysfunction in only 1 percent of men, whereas the drug resulted in impotence in 5 percent of men.
Pygeum and Stinging Nettles. These two herbs (Pygeum africanum and Urtica dioica, respectively) are often combined. In a European study, 134 patients took capsules containing extracts of both herbs. After 28 days of taking the supplements, urine flow, residual urine, and nighttime urination were significantly reduced. Both pygeum and stinging nettles contain large amounts of beta-sitosterol.
Prostatitis literally means “prostate inflammation.” While it can be caused by a bacterial infection, often it’s not. 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 generalized pain in the groin or pelvic area. BPH rarely causes pain.
Quercetin. In one study, doctors asked men with prostatitis not caused by a bacterial infection to take 500 mg of quercetin, an antioxidant found in the skins of apples and red onions, twice daily for a month. Two-thirds of the men had at least a 25 percent reduction in symptoms. When the doctors added bromelain and papain, two other supplements known for their anti-inflammatory benefits, 82 percent of the patients benefited.
One of every six American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lives. Promising research has focused on inositol hexaphosphate (IP-6) in prostate cancer. In preclinical studies conducted at the University of Colorado, Boulder, IP-6 led to significantly reduced tumor sizes in prostate cancer. Tumor shrinkage resulted from cutting off the blood supply to prostate tumors.
Jack Challem, aka “The Nutrition Reporter,” is the bestselling author of more than 20 books on health and nutrition, including The Inflammation Syndrome and Feed Your Genes Right. He is also a fine-art photographer. Visit him on the Web at nutritionreporter.com and jackchallem.com/photography.