The prostate is a cornerstone of men’s health. If you don’t know what a prostate is or even what it does, you’re not alone. Many men just like you don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about their health until they start to feel bad. You may not know this, but prostate problems are often an underlying cause of erectile dysfunction. This page will give you a bit of background on the prostate, the common diseases associated with it, and what simple steps you can take to improve your prostate health.
What is a Prostate?
The prostate is a small, walnut-sized gland that surrounds your urethra (the tube where urine and semen is released). This gland grows during puberty and stops when you reach full sexual maturity. The proteins and hormones released by this gland into the ejaculatory duct protect sperm from the acidity of vaginal fluid. Without this added protection, few sperm would ever survive the journey to fertilize a woman’s egg. Perhaps this is why the word “prostate” comes from the Greek meaning “protector” or “guardian”.
During the 20s and 30s, the prostate gland doesn’t grow or change much. However, when a man reaches the age of 40, his prostate once again begins to grow. While 50 percent of men do not notice this change, some observe symptoms of discomfort such as frequent urge to urinate and a change in sexual health.
The 3 Common Prostate Diseases
There are 3 common prostate diseases that can negatively affect men’s health. These are enlarged prostate, prostatitis, and prostate cancer. Let’s look at a few of these in detail:
Enlarged Prostate (Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy)
Enlarged prostate, also referred to as benign prostatic hypertrophy or BPH, generally affects men beginning at age 50. Symptoms of BPH include:
Frequent bladder urges, especially at night
- Having to strain to urinate
- Weak urine stream
- Always feeling like you “have to go”
- Strong urge to urinate with little flow
- Inability to empty bladder completely
- Dribbling after urination
If the prostate is allowed to continue growing unchecked, these symptoms can worsen and lead to pain-related insomnia, incontinence, kidney infections, bladder stones and complete inability to urinate.
Treating Enlarged Prostate
The most common treatments offered to men with BPH are watchful waiting, drug treatment, and surgery.
For men with minimal symptoms that do not interfere with daily life, “watchful waiting” may be suggested by their doctor. This means the man is told to keep an eye on his symptoms and report back any changes while continuing to have annual physical exams.
Alpha Blockers – Alpha blockers are usually the first course of treatment for men with mild to moderate BPH. While this treatment does not shrink the prostate, it helps relieve pressure and allows urine to flow more freely. The most commonly-reported side effects of alpha blockers are headache, dizziness, and fatigue.
5 Alpha-Reductase Inhibitors – This medication blocks the enzyme responsible for increased prostate growth and, over time, helps shrink the prostate. This type of drug therapy often reduces the need for prostate surgery. Common side effects associated with 5-Alphas are erectile dysfunction, loss of libido, and lowered amount of semen with ejaculation.
Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors – Commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction, phosphodiesterase inhibitors such as Cialis may help reduce the symptoms of BPH. Men experiencing erectile dysfunction due to enlarged prostate may find this treatment option especially attractive. Side effects of this type of BPH treatment include back pain, muscle aches, indigestion, flushing, and nasal congestion.
For severe benign prostatic hypertrophy that does not respond well to drug therapy, there are several surgical options available. Here are examples of the three of the most commonly-used:
TURP (transurethral resection of the prostate)
90% of all BPH patients are offered this surgical treatment. A local anesthetic is given and a resectoscope is inserted through the urethra to reach the prostate. Obstructing tissue is removed from the prostate during this ninety-minute procedure and is flushed out at the end of the operation. Recovery time is minimal and it is a less traumatic option than open surgery.
TUNA (transurethral needle ablation)
This minimally-invasive procedure doesn’t require hospitalization. It uses radio frequency waves to heat up enlarged prostate gland cells, encouraging them to die off and be reabsorbed back into the body. Men who undergo this procedure are put under a mild anesthetic and an instrument is inserted through the penis to heat the prostate cells for 1-3 minutes. Men may to use a catheter after this procedure for up to 2 weeks.
Greenlight Laser Therapy (GLLT)
Greenlight laser therapy is a relatively new minimally invasive process for men with mild to moderate BPH not responsive to drug therapy. The procedure is performed on an out-patient basis under general anesthetic. A micro-thin optic fiber is placed into the patient’s urethra and bursts of wavelength laser light vaporize excess tissue on the prostate, providing almost immediate relief. Post-op recovery time is usually quick, with little to no lasting side effects.
Simply put, prostatitis is inflammation in the prostate gland. At least 50% of men under the age of 50 will experience prostatitis in their lifetime. There are three major types of prostatitis:
- Bacterial (Acute and Chronic)
In men with acute bacterial prostatitis, symptoms come on very suddenly and appear like the flu. Men may experience fever, chills, lower back pain, fatigue, and frequent and/or painful urination. Chronic prostatitis develops over time and may be mistaken for a urinary tract infection. If you have recurrent urinary tract infections, check with your doctor. It could be chronic prostatitis.
Men with chronic asthma or allergies are most at risk for developing this type of prostatitis. Inflammation may occur as a result of a reaction to allergens in the urine. Symptoms may include: Urethral discharge, erectile dysfunction, testicle discomfort, frequent urination, blood in urine, and pain in the lower back.
This condition in men is similar to vulvodynia in women. Basically it means an unknown pain in the sexual organs. This pain can be caused by a variety of factors including:
- Recurrent bladder infections
- History of sexually transmitted disease
- Unprotected sex with multiple partners
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Pelvic injury
Treatments for Prostatitis
The most common treatments for prostatitis is a combination of anti-inflammatories, antibiotics (for bacterial infections), and surgery in unresponsive cases. Since certain foods can make prostatitis symptoms worse, men are advised to avoid spicy, citrus, alcoholic and caffeinated foods and drinks. Also, men with prostatitis should drink plenty of water each day to keep their bladders free of infection.
Certain factors and jobs increase a man’s risk for the development of prostate cancer. These include:
- Occupation: Painting
- Occupation: Farming
- Military workers who’ve been around Agent Orange
- Men who consume a high-fat diet
- African-American men
- Men with a family history of prostate cancer
- Men older than 60
Men experiencing the symptoms of enlarged prostate should see their doctor to test for prostate cancer. A blood test will be given to check for a prostate-specific antigen. If the results come back positive, your doctor may recommend a prostate biopsy.
How Prostate Problems Can Affect Sexual Health
Men experiencing erectile dysfunction may automatically believe they should ask their doctor for that “little blue pill” but not so fast. It’s important to understand if an enlarged prostate is the cause of your sexual health problems. If so, addressing the underlying cause (prostate problems) will help your sexual health fall back into place without unnecessary prescription drugs.
What You Can Do to Improve Your Prostate Health
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
Doing what you can now to improve your prostate health may help prevent prostate disease down the line. Here are some helpful tips:
- Clean up your diet
Eating fast food all the time may be convenient and tasty but it can set you up for some serious health problems down the road. To protect your prostate health, eat a diet rich in whole foods like organic meat, chicken, fish, vegetables, and fruit and leave fast food for a once-in-the while treat.
- Add some lycopene
Dining on lycopene-rich foods such as tomatoes, watermelon, and red peppers can help decrease prostate inflammation before it starts. According to studies, men who eat lycopene-rich foods have a decreased risk for the development of prostate cancer.
- Take zinc
Zinc deficiency is a common reason for the development of BPH. Adding 50-100 milligrams of zinc to your diet each day may help reduce enlarged prostate and improve erectile dysfunction symptoms naturally.
- Exercise regularly
All men should exercise regularly and do a combination of cardio and strength-training exercises to stay fit and keep inflammation at bay.
- Quit smoking
Men who smoke are at increased risk for the development of enlarged prostate and sexual health problems. If you smoke, take steps to quit. Your lungs and prostate will thank you.
- Drink alcohol in moderation
Men who drink alcohol in excess are at increased risk for erectile dysfunction and prostate problems. Limit your alcohol intake to 5 drinks per week.
- Lose weight
According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer institute, obese men have lower circulating concentrations of testosterone. This can lead to the development of prostate cancer. Whether you need to lose a little or a lot of weight, there are diet and exercise plans out there just for men.
When your prostate is healthy, you are. If you’re dealing with benign prostatic hypertrophy, prostatitis, or prostate cancer, you have many treatment options available to you, both natural and conventional. When it comes to your prostate health, you’re in control. Cleaning up your diet and living a healthy lifestyle is the first step to living a long, healthy, productive, and sexually active life.