Protect Your Prostate

This small gland plays a big role in men’s health; we reveal which natural remedies can help.

| May/June 2007

  • Research shows that a plant-based diet benefits the prostate.

  • Saw palmetto is the most effective herbal remedy for BPH.
    ©2007 Steven Foster

Let’s face it—you’re a busy guy with a lot on your mind. When you do think about your health, you probably think about the big stuff, like heart disease or Alzheimer’s. You know you’ve got a prostate somewhere down there, but you might not give it much thought. But your prostate is important.

Slightly larger than a walnut, the prostate gland is an essential part of a man’s reproductive system, and its main function is to secrete and store a clear fluid that is part of semen. This little gland can behave itself for years. But eventually most men discover it isn’t their heart that’s giving them problems, it’s their prostate. And the ailments aren’t just a passing nuisance.

The Problematic Prostate

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 2 million men suffer from prostate cancer. Of those, about 30,000 will lose their lives this year, making prostate cancer the second deadliest cancer in men (after lung cancer). But prostate cancer isn’t the only problem men can face. Fifty percent of all men will experience an enlarged prostate—a noncancerous condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)—by the time they hit their 60th birthday, and almost 90 percent of men older than 80 will be diagnosed with the condition.

BPH is a very inclusive boys’ club. To be eligible, you need only be a man older than 50. Yet other factors also can play a role in BPH. A family history of the condition can increase your risk. Race can make a difference: Asians have a lower incidence of BPH than Americans, but Europeans have a higher incidence. And African-Americans tend to develop symptoms earlier. BPH progresses very slowly in most men, and symptoms don’t usually occur until late in the game. However, as your prostate enlarges, you might begin to experience leaking or dribbling urine; a hesitant, interrupted or weak stream of urine; the urge to urinate often; and a frequent need to go to the bathroom throughout the night. Symptoms can become so uncomfortable that men who haven’t seen a doctor in years will make an appointment to have the problem checked out.

Even if you don’t have symptoms, it’s a good idea to have your PSA levels checked soon after you turn 50. PSA stands for a substance produced by the prostate known as prostate specific antigen. In normal men, a small amount of this antigen continuously leaks into the bloodstream, and doctors can measure levels with a simple blood test. A high PSA level can indicate an enlarged prostate. Getting an early diagnosis can substantially lower the risk of developing complications, such as urinary tract infection or even kidney damage. Moreover, a PSA is the most reliable test available for the detection of early prostate cancer.

Since BPH can’t be “cured,” most treatments focus on reducing the symptoms. The two most popular drugs for prostate enlargement are finasteride (Proscar) and dutasteride (Avodart). Although both of these drugs can reduce prostate size and ease urinary symptoms, they can have unfortunate side effects including erectile dysfunction, diminished libido, breast enlargement and allergic reactions.

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