Take It From Doctors: Prostate Health Tips
Like other male sex organs, the prostate is integral to sexual health and overall well-being.
In short, the prostate is a gland located in front of the rectum and between the bladder and the penis. When healthy, the prostate allows urine to flow through the penis from the bladder without impinging on the urethra, which it surrounds. It also produces some of the seminal fluid, which helps sperm reach an egg for reproduction. Without a healthy prostate to execute these primary functions, men may experience erectile dysfunction (ED), urinary incontinence and infertility.
Since every male has a prostate, any one of them can be at risk of developing a prostate problem, each of which has different causes and treatments.
Common prostate problems
The three most common issues that can affect the walnut-sized gland include prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and prostatitis. However, age, race and genetics have a lot to do with when and how these issues originate.
When detected early, prostate cancer is one of the most successfully treated male cancers, with a nearly 100 percent five-year relative survival rate. The overall survival rate for all stages is 98 percent. Prostate cancer is most common for men older than age 50, Black men and men with a family history of the disease. Through lifestyle changes, prostate cancer risk can be mitigated.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia
BPH, or a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate, is common among older men and can be treated with medication such as alpha blockers and pain medicine. BPH can cause urinary problems, such as weak or intermittent stream and straining to urinate.
Swelling and inflammation of the prostate, known as prostatitis, is usually caused by an infection, sometimes a bacterial infection. The condition can be painful and serious if not treated. Prostatitis can be treated with antibiotics or other anti-inflammatory medications.
How to keep your prostate healthy
Several lifestyle changes and habits can be beneficial for the health of your prostate gland, as well as your overall health.
You can lower your risk of prostate cancer—the most common cancer other than skin cancers among American men—through your diet, according to Tracy Gapin, M.D., a board-certified urologist based in Sarasota, Florida.
"Studies show that by changing your diet by reducing your consumption of red meat and processed meat and increasing your consumption of vegetables, fruits and fish, you can reduce your prostate cancer risk," Gapin explained.
Swapping out processed food for whole foods, and butter for olive oil, for example, can help you progress on your health journey. Eating certain foods can also help reduce inflammation in the prostate gland. Pomegranate juice is a proven source of antioxidants, which can reduce your chance of prostate cancer, improve blood flow, and decrease prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels if you have prostate cancer.
"Eight ounces of pomegranate juice a day is a great dietary nutrient to help your prostate," Gapin said.
In a nutshell, antioxidants are substances that may protect cells against unstable molecules called free radicals, which can cause diseases such as cancer. Antioxidants are abundant in brightly colored fruits and vegetables.
Cooked or stewed tomatoes—preferable to raw tomatoes—have been shown to lower the risk of prostate issues because they're high in lycopene, an antioxidant that can reduce the symptoms of prostate enlargement. Mushrooms have also shown effectiveness for prostate health because they're high in glucans (sugar compounds) that can give the immune system a boost.
All of these foods are believed to help prevent prostate problems or slow the progression of prostate cancer. They're all high in antioxidants and nutritional value, which helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Much like eating antioxidant-rich foods, exercise can reduce circulating levels of reactive oxygen inflammation.
"Research suggests that regular exercise may be one of the best natural antioxidants," Gapin said.
He pointed to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that evaluated the effects of exercise in prostate cancer patients.
"Men with at least three hours per week of vigorous activity had 49 percent reduced overall mortality and 61 percent reduced prostate cancer mortality," Gapin said. "This was compared to men with less than one hour per week of vigorous activity."
The jury is still out on a definitive link between prostate diseases and obesity, because the results from various studies are conflicting.
"Weight loss is often associated with reducing systemic inflammation, which can often affect the prostate," Gapin said. "There is somewhat of a loose association there."
A 2016 study published in Prostate International suggests obesity is a risk factor for both BPH and prostate cancer.
Additionally, research led by the American Cancer Society found men who gained more than 5 percent of their body weight or more than 10 pounds after a prostate cancer diagnosis were more likely to die from the disease than men who maintained their weight.
Ejaculation and sex are good for the prostate. Ejaculation can clear the body of toxins that could cause inflammation.
"The prostate produces ejaculate fluid, and having a regular flow of ejaculation is always good for the ejaculatory system for men," said Elizabeth Kavaler, M.D., a urological surgeon and the medical director of Total Urology Care of New York. "The testicles and everything should get cleaned out once or twice a week."
While ejaculation directly relates to the prostate gland, healthy habits—such as getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly—can also contribute to a healthy prostate.
The risk of prostate cancer is higher for men who have age, race and genes working against them. But making these lifestyle changes, screening for cancer and staying informed are among the best practices to prevent prostate problems from becoming worse.