Prostate health – it’s a topic all men should know about, yet one many don’t feel comfortable discussing! Just like other important markers of health, such as cholesterol levels and blood pressure, prostate health is something men should be paying attention to as they age, to ensure potential issues can be identified early and addressed. In this article today, we’ll explore what the prostate is, what it does, signs and symptoms to look out for, and things you can do as a man to promote prostate health and reduce your risk of things like prostate cancer and benign prostatic hypertrophy long-term. This is essential information all men should be aware of, so read on below to find out more.
What Is The Prostate and What Does It Do?
The prostate is a small, walnut-sized gland found in men, situated between the bladder and penis. The urethra – a tube connecting the bladder to the outer world – runs through the centre of the prostate, enabling urine to leave the body.
When men ejaculate, the prostate secretes a milky fluid that makes up around 30% of total semen volume; the remainder is made up by another type of fluid called seminal vesicle fluid. The function of this milky fluid is to create an alkaline base in which sperm can travel, to protect them in the female reproductive tract, improve their motility and facilitate conception.
Why Is It Important to Monitor Prostate Health?
As with any organ, it is important to monitor the health and function of the prostate as we age, especially as men enter their fifth and sixth decades. Just like women should regularly monitor their breasts for potential abnormalities, men should monitor the health of their prostate and be conscious of any signs or symptoms that might warrant investigation.
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian men, and early detection is essential. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, if prostate cancer is detected early, men have a 98% chance of survival past five years. This statistic drops to just 26% if detected late – this is why it is so important to be proactive in your healthcare and pay attention when things don’t seem quite right! Many prostate cancers grow slowly, and it has often been said that older gentlemen typically die with prostate cancer, as opposed to from it. That said, if left undiagnosed or untreated, prostate cancer can spread and cause problems, which is why getting an accurate diagnosis early is essential.
In addition to prostate cancer, some of the other conditions that may affect the health and function of the prostate include benign prostatic hypertrophy (abnormal growth of prostate tissue) and prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate). If any of these conditions are suspected, your doctor can recommend the appropriate investigations to be conducted, so a suitable treatment approach can be implemented.
How Are Prostate Problems Tested?
Sadly, many men avoid discussing potential concerns around their prostate with their doctor, often out of concern about the types of tests that might be involved. In the past, one of the most common tests for prostate issues was a digital rectal exam, which understandably, many men wished to avoid. Nowadays, the first test that is typically conducted is a simple blood test, to measure levels of a compound called PSA – prostate specific antigen. If PSA is abnormal or if other issues are suspected, further tests might then be warranted, such as:
- A digital rectal examination
- A mid-stream urine test (to test for potential infections)
- Urinary flow studies
- Prostate biopsy
Of course, your doctor or urologist can guide you as to which tests are most indicated in your situation, and in which order. Whilst some of these tests may not be pleasant, in some cases, they could potentially be life-saving.
What Are Some of the Signs and Symptoms of Prostate Dysfunction?
In some men, prostate cancer can be asymptomatic, so it is recommended that any man over 50 speaks to their doctor about having their PSA levels tested. In men who have a family history of prostate cancer and in men of African or Caribbean descent, it is recommended they have this conversation from the age of 45.
In other cases, men might experience signs or symptoms that point to a potential problem. These can include:
- Difficult, burning or painful urination
- Frequent urination (especially at night time)
- Urgent urination
- Post-urination dribbling
- Weak or interrupted urine flow
- Difficulty in starting urination or in holding back urine flow
- Difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Painful ejaculation
- General discomfort or pain in the hips or lower back area
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is essential you discuss them with your healthcare provider so they can be properly investigated.
Ways to Support Prostate Health Long-Term
There are many things you can do to look after your prostate and reduce your risk of potential issues long-term. In addition to following the recommended testing guidelines for prostate disease, discussing any potential concerns you have with your healthcare provider is essential. Your naturopath can also work with you to identify potential risk factors for prostate issues, and where possible, make suggestions to lower your risk. One of the wonderful benefits of working with a naturopath is that they promote a very holistic and individualised approach to healthcare, in which specific factors such as diet, lifestyle and nutrition can be accounted for as well.
Speaking more generally, some of the ways in which you can look after both your prostate health and health on the whole include:
- Consuming a diet rich in whole, fresh plant foods, such as colourful fruits and vegetables, legumes, raw nuts and seeds
- Drinking green tea, as studies suggest green tea consumption is inversely linked to risk of prostate cancer (meaning higher consumption of green tea has been associated with lower risk of the disease)
- Consuming phyto-oestrogens in the form of ground flaxseeds (early studies suggest compounds found in ground flaxseeds may reduce prostate cancer cell growth and development, and lower overall risk)
- Avoiding smoking
- Maintaining a healthy body weight and body fat percentage
- Avoiding endocrine disrupting chemicals such as BPA and phthalates
- Minimising your intake of deep fried foods
- Consuming cooked tomatoes regularly, as these contain lycopene, a compound which has been associated with reduced risk of prostate cancer
The Take Home
Ultimately, prostate health is an essential topic for any man to be aware of and to be comfortable discussing with their healthcare practitioner. If you have any concerns relating to urinary or sexual function, discussing these with your healthcare practitioner is the best place to start. Remember, the earlier issues are detected, the better the treatment outcomes, so addressing concerns early is essential.