Prostate 101:  how (and why) to keep your prostate gland healthy

Prostate health has been in the news quite a bit over the past few years.  The “Movember” campaign – now in its tenth year – has done a great deal to promote awareness about prostate problems.

But even with the campaign, not everyone knows what this little gland is or what it does.  So here at Healthpost, we’ve put together a handy list of some of the most frequently asked prostate-related questions.

And ladies – if your guy doesn’t read this blog, you might want to show him the post and get a discussion started with him!

1.    What (and where) exactly is my prostate gland?

Your prostate is a small gland – normally about the size and shape of a walnut – that sits just underneath your bladder.  It surrounds your urethra: the tube that carries both urine and semen out of your body through your penis.

Your prostate is one of three male sex glands: the other two are your testicles and seminal vesicles.  Because it’s a sex gland, your prostate is strongly influenced by your levels of various male sex hormones: particularly testosterone and its derivative, dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

2.    What does my prostate gland do?

A healthy prostate’s key function is to produce a liquid called prostatic fluid.  This fluid is a major component of semen, and its main purpose is to nourish and transport sperm cells during ejaculation.  That makes it an integral part of male fertility.

However, because it’s so close to your bladder and urinary system, your prostate can also significantly affect your urinary function (see Q4 below).

3.    How common – and how serious – is prostate enlargement?

We mentioned earlier that your prostate is normally the size of a walnut.  However, as you get older (especially after you hit 40), your hormone levels start to change.  You gradually produce less testosterone, which changes your testosterone:oestrogen balance.  Additionally, your body begins to accumulate high levels of DHT in the prostate gland.

These hormonal changes can result in a growth in the size and number of the prostate cells – causing the gland to enlarge.  The medical term for this enlargement is Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (or BPH); and it affects half of all men over 50(1).

In and of itself, BPH is not a serious condition – although the symptoms can be annoying and uncomfortable. However, because BPH symptoms can mimic those of more serious prostate problems, you need to see your doctor if you notice any of the signs.

4.    What BPH symptoms should I watch out for?

Because your prostate is so close to your bladder and urethra, you’ll probably notice the effects of any enlargement when you urinate.  Specific signs to keep an eye out for include:

  • Needing to urinate more frequently and/or more urgently over time
  • A weak urine stream, or one that keeps stopping and starting
  • Any difficulty or pain when you try to urinate

If you notice any of these symptoms, please talk to your doctor. He or she will administer a simple blood test (called a PSA test) to ensure your symptoms aren’t due to anything more serious than BPH.

5.    How can I help to keep my prostate healthy?

Once your doctor has given you the all-clear, several herbs and nutrients may help to support your prostate health.  Some of the best-researched  include:

  • Saw Palmetto: the berries of this small palm tree were traditionally used to assist with male fertility and sexual health.  Today, research suggests that Saw Palmetto extract contains important compounds that support your testosterone balance by discouraging DHT production.  There is also some evidence that Saw Palmetto can assist with BPH symptoms and support overall prostate health.
  • Lycopene: this deep red antioxidant pigment is found in several orange and red vegetables, although tomatoes are its richest source.  Its powerful antioxidant properties may help to protect the cells in your prostate against free radical damage, which may lower your risk of common prostate conditions.
  • Epilobium: this European herb has a long history of use in traditional medicine to support prostate and urinary health.   Like Saw Palmetto, Epilobium can support your testosterone balance.  It may also help to assist with BPH symptoms.
  • Zinc and Selenium: these essential antioxidant minerals play a vital role in maintaining normal prostate function, and supporting healthy sperm production.

By Eve Storer-Blake BHSc, ND, Dip Med Herb

Vitaco Naturopath

Nutra-Life Prostate Complete is a high potency combination of herbs and nutrients, including Saw Palmetto, Lycopene, Epilobium, Horsetail, Zinc and Selenium, to help maintain a healthy prostate. Nutra-Life Prostate Complete can also be used to support normal male physiology and sexual function. It is available for secure order from our online shop.

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References:

(1) http://www.prostate.org.nz/prostate-diseases – accessed 23 June 2013