Keeping your Prostate Healthy

WHEN it comes to health matters, it seems to me that women are the ones who make the effort to understand and to put them into practice. However, I was proven wrong when a male friend of my sister visited us during the Chinese New Year. He is knowledgeable about his body and in his 40s follows both a healthy diet and lifestyle. His list of health supplements includes saw palmetto and pumpkin seed even though he does not experience the symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate.

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that sits beneath the bladder and surrounds the urethra (the outflow channel for urine). As part of the male reproductive system, this gland secretes seminal fluid during ejaculation to prevent infection in the urethra as well as to energise the sperm to increase the likelihood of conception.

It is believed that after puberty, the testosterone levels begin to drop, leaving an increasing amount of female hormones such as prolactin, estradiol, folliclestimulating hormones and luteinising hormones. These hormones encourage the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a more potent form of testosterone. The result of this increase in DHT is an excessive growth of prostate cells leading to an enlargement of the prostate that constricts the urethra and interferes with normal urinary function.

Due to the hormonal changes that take place, the prostate begins to bulk up significantly. The gland can grow to many times its normal size, and in extreme cases, it can grow as large as a grapefruit. Prostate enlargement or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) usually begins after the age of 35. By 50, more than 25 per cent of all men have an enlarged prostate. By 80, the number grows to 80 per cent. Prostate growth might signal cancer and men should opt for annual prostate checks once they are 30 and above. In most cases, the growth is usually non-cancerous.

Symptoms of BPH include a sensation of incomplete emptying of bladder, the frequent urge to urinate, especially at night, or an intermittent, weak stream of urine accompanied by dribbling.

The enlargement of the prostate is an age-related process and adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle early will ensure a healthy prostate. A high cholesterol level is associated with increased risk of prostate disorders. Consider a low cholesterol diet by reducing saturated fats intake and increasing soluble fibre intake such as oat bran, psyllium and pectin. Replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fatty acids found in flaxseed oil, olive oil, evening primrose oil and fish oil. These essential fatty acids have shown significant improvements in enlarged prostate.

The diet should be free as possible from pesticides and other chemicals, since many of these compounds (e.g. dioxin, hexachlorobenzene) can increase the production of DHT levels. Think natural, wholesome and organic.

Ensure that the diet is also antioxidant-rich with beta-carotene, vitamins C, E and the minerals selenium and zinc. These are available in all dark green leafy vegetables, coloured fruits, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, yoghurt, eggs, lean organic meat and seafood.

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa Serrulata, Serenoa Repens)
Over the last decade, there have been many clinical studies documenting the safety and effectiveness of saw palmetto (Serenoa serrulata) as a treatment for an enlarged prostate. The American Family Physician (March 2003) states that "saw palmetto is a herbal product used in the treatment of symptoms related to benign prostatic hyperplasia. The active component is found in the fruit of the American dwarf palm tree. Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of saw palmetto in reducing symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia. Saw palmetto appears to have an efficacy similar to that of medications like finasteride, but it is better tolerated and less expensive. There are no known drug interactions with saw palmetto, and reported side effects are minor and rare".

Saw palmetto is also combined with other herbs for enhanced benefit. Pumpkin seed is one such herb that has similar effects as saw palmetto largely due to its content rich in essential fatty acids, zinc and plant sterols, namely betasitosterol. Beta-sitosterol has the ability to inhibit the enzyme 5-alpha reductase that is responsible for converting the male hormone testosterone to DHT. Inhibiting the conversion of DHT within the body means hindering further the enlargement of the prostate.
Yam Cher Seng, NST

* Yam Cher Seng, a pharmacist actively involved in the dissemination of information on natural healthcare and holistic therapies

NST; Feb 22, 2005; Life & Times; 17