The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that forms part of the male reproductive system. It is located in front of the rectum, just below the bladder and surrounds the urethra.
The prostate secretes an alkaline fluid during ejaculation that forms part of the semen. The fluid assists the transport of the sperm and makes the vaginal canal less acidic.
It is common for the prostate gland to become enlarged as a man ages. The prostate goes through growth periods. Initially in puberty the prostate doubles in size and at around age 25, the gland begins to grow again. The prostate continues to grow during most of a man’s life but the enlargement doesn’t usually cause problems until late in life. This condition is referred to as benign prostatic hyperplasia or hypertrophy (BPH).
BPH symptoms before age 40 are rare but become more common in men over sixty.
The symptoms of BPH originate from obstruction of the urethra and gradual loss of bladder function. As the prostate enlarges, the gland presses against the urethra causing an obstruction. The bladder reacts by contracting, even when it contains small amounts of urine, causing more frequent urination.
The common symptoms involve changes or problems with urination, including:
- Interrupted urine flow and weak stream
- Persistent urge to urinate especially at night time
- Leaking or dribbling of urine
- Urine retention and strain on the bladder can lead to urinary tract infections
Why it happens?
The cause of BPH is not well understood but there are a number of theories.
Men produce a male hormone called testosterone and small amounts of oestrogen, a female hormone. With age, the amount of active testosterone in the blood decreases, leaving higher levels of oestrogen that may increase the activity of substances that promote cell growth, causing prostate enlargement.
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a substance derived from testosterone in the prostate, is considered to contribute to its growth. This accumulation of DHT may encourage the growth of cells causing enlargement of the prostate. Scientists have also found that men who do not produce DHT do not develop BPH.
What natural therapies can help?
Saw palmetto and nettle root – help relieve symptoms of medically diagnosed BPH, including frequent urination, incomplete emptying and poor urinary flow.
Zinc – important for all aspects of male reproductive health, one of the highest concentrations of zinc in the body is found in the prostate gland. Zinc levels decrease in the prostate tissue and prostatic fluid in men with prostate cancer.
Selenium – low selenium levels are linked to a higher risk of developing advanced prostate cancer compared to those with high selenium status. Selenium and vitamin E help protect the prostate from free radical damage.
Lycopene – a pigment found in some fruits and vegetables that gives them their red / orange colour such as tomatoes and apricots. The risk of developing prostate cancer is lower in men who have diet high in lycopene.
Cranberry – used to prevent and treat recurrent UTIs. The proanthocyanidins interfere with the bacteria called Escherichia coli (E coli), adhering to the urinary tract wall.
Pumpkin seed extract – high in fatty acids and has been found to decrease symptoms of BPH.
Uva ursi – is a urinary antiseptic.
Did you know?
- Always speak to your healthcare practitioner about any urinary problems such as those described above.
- Have regular check-ups to catch any early problems. See your healthcare professional immediately if your symptoms worsen or change. In particular, if you notice burning when you urinate, blood in your urine, worsening of urinary frequency, fever or chills, you may have a urinary tract infection that requires medical attention.
- Follow a good healthy diet. Include pumpkin seeds (rich in beta-sitosterol) and plenty of foods rich in lycopene such as tomato paste. Fresh fruit and vegetables contain carotenoids that are vital for prostate health.
- Diuretics such as coffee, tea or alcoholic beverages, will worsen urinary tract symptoms by increasing the amount of urine that is produced.
- Relief in symptoms can be obtained by attempting to urinate again 1 to 2 minutes after you have emptied your bladder.
- If nocturia is a problem reduce all fluid intake in the evenings.
- If you’re a cyclist, use a “split” bicycle seat, which reduces the pressure on your prostate.