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Prostate Health

Author: Robert A. Schulman, M.D.
Excerpt From: Solve It With Supplements

Here’s a quick riddle: What begins with the size of a pea, ends with the size of a walnut, and is the source of most male urinary problems? Answer: The tiny organs called the prostate that rests just below the male bladder.

What is it?

The most common prostate problems include prostate enlargement, prostate infection or inflammation, and prostate pain. Most benign prostate problems begin when men reach their forties, which is when the prostate undergoes its second “growth spurt.” However, prostate problems can begin for some men in their twenties. At about age 40, cells in the prostate begin to reproduce rapidly, and the tissues of the prostate often become enlarged. By the time they reach their eighties, 80 percent of men will experience prostate enlargement.

Also called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), prostate enlargement is a common problem and may be a natural part of aging. Some BPH symptoms are urinary urgency or frequency, awaking at night with the urge to urinate, a weak urine stream, a flow that stops and starts during urination, and urinary incontinence. BPH is associated with an inability to fully empty the bladder and, in extreme cases, can cause blood to enter the urine or lead to urinary tract infection.

Prostatitis (the suffix “itis” means inflammation) is an inflammation of the prostate gland. This inflammation can occur with or without a bacterial infection. In fact, only 5 percent of men with prostatitis have bacterial prostatitis. Acute prostatitis is the least common but most severe form of prostatitis. It occurs with an onset of symptoms including fever, chills, burning during urination, difficulty in urinating, and pain in the lower back, bladder region, or behind the scrotum. These symptoms warrant an immediate visit to your doctor.

What should I take?

The following supplements are intended to keep the prostate healthy. If you think you have a prostate problem make sure to consult your doctor before taking any supplements.

Saw palmetto is the herbal gold standard when it comes to BPH, and studies have shown it to be as effective as finasteride (Proscar)–a prescription drug commonly used to treat BPH–without the unwanted side effects. Choose a standardized extract of saw palmetto, since it seems to be more effective than a tea or a tincture of this herb. A 3-year study in Germany found that saw palmetto extract reduced nighttime urination and improved urinary flow in BPH. However, a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine did not confirm these results. Saw palmetto has also been used traditionally to treat the inflammation and swelling associated with prostatitis.

Research indicated that blood levels of selenium may be low in people with prostate cancer. One double-blind trial involving 1,312 people with a history of skin cancer found that after 3 years, supplementation with selenium had no effect on their skin but did reduce the incidence of prostate cancer by 63 percent. Many experts recommend supplementation with 200 micrograms of selenium to reduce the risk as well as slow the progression of prostate cancer.

Beta-sitosterol may have a positive effect on some of the symptoms associated with BPH. In a study of 200 men with BPH, supplementation with beta-sitosterol for 6 months, as compared to a placebo, improved urinary flow and produced and overall improvement in symptoms. The placebo group in the study reported no change in symptoms.

Quercetin – a flavonoid derived from plants – may help to ease chronic nonbacterial prostatitis. Quercetin is has anti-inflammatory as well as antibacterial properties, and studies have found that supplementation with quercetin may decrease symptoms of chronic nonbacterial prostatitis.

Preliminary research suggests that when taken in high doses, zinc may reduce the size of the prostate in BPH. Other research suggests that zinc may help reduce the risk of prostatitis-induced infertility. Consult your doctor to determine whether zinc supplementation is appropriate for you.

Lycopene appears to have a unique ability among carotenoids to improve the odds against getting a prostate cancer. In one study, men who had the highest intake of lycopene in their diet had a 21 percent less chance of developing prostate cancer than those with the lowest intake. Men who consumed more than 10 servings of tomatoes a week did even better, having a 35 percent lower risk than men eating only 1.5 servings. And among patients with prostate cancer, levels of lycopene in the blood are often lower than average.