Prostate health is rarely discussed until there is a problem. The prostate is a gland that sits at the bottom of bladder and surrounds the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside of the body. It is usually about the size of a walnut. Its purpose is to manufacture and secrete seminal fluid, protect sperm, and to maintain moisture to protect the lining of the urethra.
At least 75% of men over the age of 40 will experience BPH, benign prostatic hyperplasia or hypertrophy. This is an enlargement of the prostate that can cause compression of the urethra. I am sure you can image what that would cause. The usual presenting symptoms include difficulty starting and maintaining a steady stream of urine, excessive urination at night, strong urges to urinate which can lead to leakage, dribbling of urine, frequent urination and the inability to urinate.
If you have no symptoms or mild symptoms from BPH your doctor will probably recommend waiting until the symptoms become more severe before starting treatment. Treatment is usually with medications such as tamsulosin (Flomax), terazosin (Hytrin), doxazosin (Cardura) or prazosin (Minipress). These medications were all initially used to treat high blood pressure. They also help relax the smooth muscle tissue in the prostate which can help with urinary flow and decrease urgency, frequency and multiple trips to the bathroom during the night (nocturia). Possible side effects of these medications are dizziness with standing (orthostatic hypotension), fatigue and headaches. The other medication that may be used is finasteride. Finasteride blocks the conversion of testosterone to DHT, which causes the prostate to grow. This can actually cause shrinkage of the prostate. The medication must be used indefinitely and may take up to six months to work.
What can you do to protect your prostate?
There are several supplements that have beneficial effects on the prostate. Saw palmetto is the most studied and used herb for the prostate. It inhibits DHT production and DHT binding to androgen receptors. It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative (growth) properties. Some other well studied supplements include pygeum, pumpkin see oil, stinging nettles, fish oil and zinc. Before using any forms of alternative medicine to treat your prostate consult your physician to make sure there won’t be any interaction with the medications you are taking.