Caring for the Prostate
The prostate is an odd, walnut-sized organ at the base of the pelvis below the bladder. When functioning properly, most men don’t even know it’s there. On the other hand, men with a prostate issue think of little else. Conditions like prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), and prostatitis can cause pain and discomfort, and dramatically reduce quality of life.
Part of the problem is the prostate’s sensitive location. In order to produce fluids for semen, the gland encircles the urethra. An enlarged prostate will often affect urination. From a clinical point of view, the prostate is difficult to get to—deep in the pelvis, surrounded by nerves and muscles. From a holistic standpoint, the prostate’s address, at the bottom of the torso, makes it susceptible to gravity.
The body is constantly sparring with gravity and never quite keeps up. As a result, lower organs, like the prostate, testicles, cervix, and ovaries, often receive higher doses of toxins and heavy metals as they settle downward in the body. This may be one of the reasons cancers often manifest in these organs at younger ages. There’s only so much detoxification the body can do.
When the prostate gets into trouble, it often gets bigger. Outside of cancer, there are two main conditions that cause this reaction: BPH and prostatitis.
BPH is a noncancerous condition that usually affects men over 50. Though the causes are not entirely clear, there’s no question that testosterone plays a role. Men who have had their testicles (which produce testosterone) removed do not contract BPH. The prostate breaks down testosterone into dehyrdotestosterone (DHT), which influences both normal and abnormal prostate growth.
Though most American men will develop BPH by the time they’re 70, the condition is not necessarily inevitable. The so-called “Western lifestyle” is probably a contributing factor. For example, research in China found very low incidence of BPH in rural communities, while city dwellers, who had adopted a more Western approach, had much higher rates of the condition.
Prostatitis is another condition characterized by inflammation. In fact, it has become a catchall description for an inflamed prostate. Acute bacterial prostatitis is caused by some of the same bacteria that cause bladder infections, for example E. coli. Fever is a primary symptom. Chronic bacterial prostatitis may have no symptoms, but may also be associated with bladder infections. Non-bacterial prostatitis causes pain in the pelvis, rectum, or testicles. It can also cause erectile dysfunction. Unfortunately, the mechanisms that cause this particular form of prostatitis are still a mystery. Another form is called asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis, which is poorly understood, generally has no symptoms, and is usually is left untreated.
Symptoms and Consequences
As noted, an enlarged prostate can have a dramatic impact on urination, particularly frequency and urgency. An increase in frequency or urgency can be a clear warning sign that trouble is afoot. Other symptoms include waking up multiple times to urinate; a light flow; and the inability to completely empty your bladder accompanied by the sensation that you have to urinate again after just a few minutes. These are common signs that your prostate is enlarged and pressing on the urethra.
These issues can become especially onerous with BPH, sometimes leading to a urinary tract infection and/or the complete inability to urinate. Needless to say, this could become extremely uncomfortable after just a short time. And while the bladder is more likely t stretch than to break, it’s not something you ever want to experience. In addition urinary tract obstruction can lead to infections in the bladder and kidneys. Remember, complete blockage is a medical emergency and you should call a physician immediately.
Regardless of the cause, prostate inflammation is generally bad for overall health. Chronic inflammation can even lead to prostate cancer. In particular, there is a correlation between chronic prostatitis and prostate cancer. This is especially true if you have both conditions simultaneously as the prostatitis tends to make the cancer more aggressive. So it’s important to address these issues as soon as possible, even if the symptoms aren’t that bad.
While BPH can be a serious condition, that isn’t always the case. Often, if symptoms are light or nonexistent, physicians will monitor the condition to ensure it doesn’t worsen. Because the inflammation in BPH is caused by the testosterone metabolite DHT, the first line treatments are designed to inhibit an enzyme called 5α-reductase, which contributes to DHT production. As an interesting side note, men experiencing hair loss often see new growth after enzyme restriction treatment. In addition to causing inflammation in the prostate, DHT also causes hair loss.
Alpha blockers, which relax the muscles in the prostate and bladder, are another treatment and can improve the ability to urinate. In cases that do not respond to other treatments, surgery may be an option.
Acute bacterial prostatitis is generally treated with antibiotics, combined with fluids and pain medications. When there is no infection, alpha blockers are commonly used. I have found that addressing BHP and prostatitis by combining conventional therapies with complementary methods such as herbal medicine, intravenous vitamin C therapy, and acupuncture yields better, quicker, and longer-lasting results.
In order to address prostate issues, or prevent them altogether, it’s important to look at the potential causes and act accordingly. For example, BPH is primarily a hormonal condition caused by testosterone metabolites, so you want to supplement with herbs that support hormonal health. You will also want to enhance circulation, reduce inflammation, fight infection, and support immunity. Specific natural ingredients that can help achieve these goals include saw palmetto, pygeum, stinging nettle, quercetin, pomegranate, and others.
In addition to these strategies, it’s important to support the good bacteria in your system to ward off prostatitis. Probiotics and prebiotics have long been known to benefit bladder and prostate health. Fermented foods will also normalize bacterial growth, balance flora, and help prevent prostatitis.
A biological protein called galectin-3 plays a significant role in inflammation and has also been linked to cancer and heart disease. In fact, the FDA recently recognized elevated galectin-3 as a marker for cardiovascular disease. A proven natural remedy to address elevated galectin-3 is modified citrus pectin (MCP), derived from the peel of citrus fruit and modified to a specific molecular weight and structure for absorption and bio-activity throughout the body. MCP works by binding with and blocking the harmful effects of excess galectin-3. In addition, MCP has also been proven to safely reduce heavy metals and enhance immunity. These are critical factors for prostate health.
As mentioned earlier, Western diets tend to feed prostate conditions. The prostate doesn’t like high fat diets. It’s also good to maintain a low glycemic index by reducing or eliminating sweets and foods that cause a spike in blood sugar. There is a correlation between prostate cancer, insulin, and the hormone IGF-1. Both IGF-1 and insulin are enhanced by glucose spikes.
Emphasize cruciferous vegetables, which contain active ingredients Indole-3-Carbinol and DIM (3, 3’-Diindolylmethane) to help metabolize hormones as well as protect DNA integrity. Limit dairy products, which can cause prostate swelling.
Ultimately, the important lesson is to take a proactive stance with your prostate. BPH and prostatitis can be alleviated but not always eliminated. The best strategy is to prevent them in the first place with a healthy diet and lifestyle, targeted supplements, and regular check-ups with your doctor.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, Lac, MS, is an integrative medical doctor, licensed acupuncturist, researcher, and frequent guest lecturer. He has been a pioneer in holistic medicine for over 30 years and has published numerous peer-reviewed research papers. He is also the founder and medical director of Amitabha Medical Clinic in California.