As men age, it is natural to experience a change in the size and activity of the prostate gland. However a recent survey conducted by Prostate Cancer UK found 70% of study participants knew nothing about their prostate health and were unaware of the symptoms that can be associated with poor prostate health and prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men with over 300,000 new diagnoses made each year in the UK. Prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) and benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlargement of the prostate) can be common in men over the age of 50. Regardless of age however, it’s important for all men to be aware of the status of their prostate and to understand how to improve prostate health.
What Is The Prostate Gland?
The prostate is a small, walnut-sized gland situated below the bladder and surrounding part of the urethra (the tube taking urine from the bladder to the penis). Its main function is to produce the thick, clear fluid that forms the bulk of ejaculate and to provide nourishment and support for sperm after leaving the body. As men age, the prostate goes through a variety of changes, most of which are natural and can go unnoticed.
How Diet Can Improve Prostate Health
It’s well known diet plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and that also extends to the health of your prostate gland. One such substance that has received recent attention is the trace mineral zinc. Dave Grotto, a leading nutritionist and author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life, highlights the importance of zinc in prostate health. "Research shows that adequate zinc may protect against cellular damage that leads to prostate cancer," says Grotto. In addition, "sexual functioning of the male reproductive system, including increased sperm counts, is also enhanced with zinc." The precise function of zinc and prostate health is unclear although it is known that cancerous cells of the prostate contain a much lower level of zinc when compared to the normally high concentrations found healthy cells of the prostate.
Some important nutrients also thought beneficial for prostate health include Selenium, amino acids, B vitamins, antioxidants, isoflavones (such as those found in soy) and lycopene (found in the skin of tomatoes and watermelon). In addition Saw Palmetto and Rapeseed extracts are popular natural remedies to relieve symptoms of an enlarged prostate in some men.
Monitoring prostate health
Changes to the prostate are not always avoidable or even noticeable. Therefore, as part of maintaining a healthy prostate gland it’s important to get regular check-ups to make sure things are going accordingly. A visit to the GP can give you a large insight into the health of your prostate. Digital-rectal examinations, when performed by a trained professional, can determine the physical state of your prostate gland. In addition, a simple blood test is also recommended to keep an eye on levels of certain substances linked to poor prostate health. On your next GP check-up, don’t be afraid to ask for a blood test assessing the following substances:
Homocysteine – High levels of homocysteine can indicate a high-risk for many diseases including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Luckily, if you are found to have high blood levels, most people find they can lower this with the help of a tailored diet.
Hormones – The prostate is an important exocrine gland that is involved in producing and regulating many hormones, specifically testosterone. Abnormal levels of hormones can sometimes be associated with prostate cancer. Therefore the level of testosterone, together with oestrodial and prolactin blood levels can determine the activity of a healthy prostate.
PSA – Studies have shown a link between high levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and prostate cancer and so this is often tested as part of a screening process for at risk candidates. PSA is an important protein produced almost exclusively by the prostate gland. As the prostate naturally increases in size with age, so do the levels of PSA. If levels of PSA are increasing steadily or are significantly high for your age group it may warrant further investigation.
Signs & Symptoms of Reduced Prostate Health
As well as working towards a healthy prostate, it’s also important to ensure you are aware of any changes that occur that may be cause for concern. Signs and symptoms men should be aware of include:
• A change in the pattern of urination. IE increased frequency and urgency
• Painful urination or ejaculation
• Pain in the lower back or between the scrotum and anus.
• Difficulty urinating, particularly in the morning
• A weak stream or the feeling of ‘incomplete’ emptying of the bladder
• Small traces of blood in the urine.
If you notice any of the above symptoms it’s important to take a trip to your local GP or healthcare provided to carry out a full examination. This will not only assist with determining the cause but you can also work with your GP to understand how to alleviate symptoms and increase quality of life.