Prostate health may not be at the top of your mind, although, perhaps it should be.
Keeping it at the forefront of a general health plan is essential to avoid some of the gland's most common health concerns, including benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), prostatitis, chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS) and, yes, the big one, prostate cancer, which affects 1 in 8 men during their lifetime.
Prostate cancer is highly treatable, but even so, there are approximately 268,000 new cases and 34,500 deaths caused by the disease each year in the United States, and poor lifestyle habits can increase your risk.
Understanding what those behaviors are is important to keeping your prostate healthy. Learn about five harmful lifestyle choices sure to create prostate problems.
1. Ignoring symptoms
You really need to break one habit for the sake of your prostate: Stop ignoring urinary symptoms such as slow stream, increased frequency and intermittent stream, according to Murugesan Manoharan, M.D., the chief of urologic oncologic surgery at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute.
"These symptoms might represent a prostate enlargement, which requires medical assessment and management. If not, it might lead to many complications, including poor bladder function, infection and kidney failure," Manoharan said.
2. Eating a poor diet and not exercising
A nutrient-dense diet and physical activity are two pillars of health maintenance, and the benefits extend to your prostate gland.
Diet—including foods you should eat and those you should avoid—plays a vital role in cancer prevention and overall prostate health. And while the direct risk of prostate cancer due to inactivity isn't as apparent, experts agree that a lack of exercise can contribute to overall cancer risk, including cancer of the prostate.
"Sitting for prolonged periods can irritate the prostate, leading to pelvic pain and discomfort, as well as rising PSA [prostate-specific antigen] levels," said Aleece Fosnight, M.S.P.A.S., a board-certified physician's assistant and medical advisor at Aeroflow Urology, based in North Carolina.
Consuming plenty of nutrient-dense foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats, while skipping overly processed foods can improve your prostate health, reduce cancer risks and help with weight balance.
Some studies have shown eating cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, is helpful. These foods are high in antioxidants, vitamins and phytochemicals, which lower inflammation and help prevent cancer cell growth.
Berries are also loaded with antioxidants, which help to neutralize and remove free radicals from the body that can potentially turn into cancer cells.
"The bad habit I see is that people do not eat enough of these enriching foods in their diets," Fosnight said. "We need four to five servings of both fruits and vegetables each day. This can be difficult, however, planning ahead and sneaking these food groups into meals can increase consumption and lead to better prostate health."
Research shows that a higher body mass index (BMI), when combined with abdominal obesity, correlates with higher chances of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. BMI is a measure of body fat based on weight and height.
3. Neglecting regular medical screenings
Preventive screenings are vital in stopping or detecting certain diseases and cancers early enough for treatment interventions to be optimally effective.
Failing to seek prostate cancer screening with a PSA blood test is a risky habit. The American Urological Association recommends this screening for males between the ages of 55 and 69, in shared decision-making with a doctor.
"Failure to screen might lead to delayed diagnosis, losing the chance for cure, the spread of cancer and death," Manoharan said.
You should also get your hormone levels checked, testosterone in particular.
"Low levels of testosterone have been shown, in some studies, to cause increased growth of the prostate," Fosnight explained.
Knowing your levels and monitoring them frequently becomes even more crucial if you receive testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
"Testosterone replacement therapy continues to be a controversial topic in men with prostate cancer," Fosnight said. "Understanding your baseline on hormone levels and PSA levels is key to knowing when changes are occurring in your body."
4. Smoking and drinking to excess
Some organizations, including the American Cancer Society, do not list alcohol as a risk factor for prostate cancer. Recent studies have shown binge drinking, heavy drinking or starting alcohol consumption at an early age could lead to increased rates of high-grade prostate cancer.
"There has been a link to higher alcohol consumption with a higher rate of mortality from prostate cancer and increased growth of prostate tumors leading to more metastatic disease," Fosnight said. "Alcohol has also been linked to increased risks of bladder cancer."
Smoking is infamous for its contributions to poor health. And not only does it increase your risk of prostate cancer, including more aggressive types, but it is also the No. 1 risk factor for bladder cancer.
"The nicotine in tobacco products is filtered through the kidneys and lands in the urine, where it can cause DNA mutations and inflammation to surrounding cell structures," Fosnight explained. "Smoking causes huge amounts of damage to the body. Ask your healthcare provider today for help in smoking cessation."
5. Trying to treat yourself
Treating yourself with unproven remedies can cause more harm than good.
"Consumption of unapproved and unsubstantiated products under the 'natural therapy' and 'supplemental' labels is a bad habit," Manoharan said. "There are many good, proven supplements for prostate health, but there are also many unproven products available in the market which can be detrimental to your health, such as steroid-containing products."
Seeking medical advice is recommended before starting testosterone treatment. It's also a bad idea to self-administer that particular hormone.
"Self-medication with testosterone will have adverse effects on patients with hidden, underlying prostate cancer, and may affect the natural production of testosterone, affecting sexual drive and sexual function," Manoharan said.
Overall healthy lifestyle habits improve prostate health
These listed habits to avoid to keep a healthy prostate are nearly identical to the ones that can negatively affect your health in general. Being smoke-free, watching your alcohol intake, getting active, eating nutrient-rich foods and seeing your doctor are all wise practices for better overall health and fewer risks for your prostate.
If you know your diet probably falls short in certain areas pertaining to prostate health, taking a vitamin that combines three prostate-friendly herbs in one capsule can help. Prostate health vitamins from Giddy+Health utilize saw palmetto, stinging nettle and pygeum to manage prostate size and maintain a healthy urinary flow. And their microbead technology ensures a timed release throughout the day.