What is the prostate? The prostate is a small gland located within the male reproductive tract. The role of the prostate is to secrete fluid that provides nutrients and protection to sperm. The urethra, also commonly referred to as the urinary tract runs directly through the middle of the prostate, which is why we often see issues related to urination when there is something going on with the prostate gland.
There are three main health conditions associated with the prostate. These include:
- Prostatitis, which can be acute (short-term), chronic (long-term), bacterial and non-bacterial. This is when there is inflammation in the prostate gland that can be caused by a bacterial infection but isn't always. Symptoms of prostatitis include pain with urination, urgency, frequency (especially at night), and backache.
- Enlarged prostate, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is extremely common in men over 50 years old. Symptoms include hesitancy, slow urine stream, and dribbling. Digital rectal examinations, along with prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests are performed on an annual basis to differentiate between BPH and prostate cancer.
- Prostate cancer. Men affected by prostate cancer typically present with obstructive symptoms, meaning difficulty with urine output. They may also have lower abdominal pain. On physical examination, the prostate will feel like a stone. PSA levels may be elevated and trans-rectal ultrasound (TRUS) will show enlargement of the gland. Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men aside from skin cancer.
What tests are used to evaluate prostate health? When evaluating the health of the prostate gland, doctors typically perform a digital rectal examination (DRE) first. This is a physical examination of the prostate to determine its size and firmness. During this test, the doctor will make note of any abnormal tenderness reported by the patient and if the gland protrudes into the rectum. Blood work, including testing prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a tumor marker used to detect or monitor prostate cancer will also be requisitioned. PSA levels of 1-4 ng/mL are within normal range, 4-10 ng/mL warrant follow-up tests, and above 10 ng/mL may indicate the presence of prostate cancer. When PSA levels are above 4 ng/mL a trans-rectal ultrasound is performed to evaluate the size of the prostate gland and other surrounding structures. This type of ultrasound can detect any nodules or tumors that may be present on the gland. Finally, a biopsy of the prostate is necessary for diagnosing prostate cancer. Biopsies are performed using a trans-rectal ultrasound.
What are the conventional treatments available? For enlarged prostate, the patient may be prescribed medications such as alpha-blockers, which reduce the tension in the prostate around the urinary tract to alleviate difficulties with urination. 5-alpha reductase inhibitors can also be used to shrink the prostate gland or surgical interventions may be recommended. In the case of prostate cancer, there are several treatment options including a prostatectomy (the removal of the prostate gland), radiation or chemotherapy, cryotherapy (killing the cancer cells by freezing), hormone therapy, watchful waiting, or clinical trials of new medications that are being tested.
What are the naturopathic treatment available? To improve prostate health and disease outcomes, naturopathic interventions focus primarily around diet and lifestyle interventions listed below.
- Limit alcohol consumption, for example beer contains hops which increases prolactin levels which leads to the prostate gland taking in more testosterone. Testosterone increases the size of the prostate gland.
- Quit smoking, cigarettes have toxins in them that prevent zinc absorption. Zinc is a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, which as previously stated work to reduce the size of the prostate.
- Reduce stress; stress affects the body physically by messing with hormones, that are directly tied to prostate health.
- Increase protein in the diet; low protein diets stimulate 5-alpha reductase. Dietary sources of protein include meats, nuts, seeds, fresh vegetables, legumes, and soy-products.
- Increase dietary omega-3s by consuming cold-water fish, nuts, and seeds (for example flaxseeds and walnuts).
- Maintain healthy cholesterol levels
- Supplement with zinc, flaxseed or fish oil (high in omega-3).
- Certain amino acids such as glycine, glutamic acid, and alanine provide symptomatic relief for men with BPH.
- Many botanicals have also been shown to help relieve the symptoms of BPH or support prostate health such as serenoa repens, pygeum africanum, and urtica dioica.
For more information about how naturopathic treatments can address your prostate health or other concerns contact me at 905-683-1616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours in health,
Dr. Kate Klein, ND