Concerns about prostate health cause distress for many men.


Martin Hum, DHD Nutritional Therapist and health journalist

Year of publication: 

According to the charity Prostate UK, some 35% of men over 50 suffer from benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a non-malignant enlargement of the prostate gland. This embarrassing condition causes a frequent and urgent need to urinate, difficulty in starting the stream and dribbling afterwards, as well as sleep disturbance due to trips to the toilet. Prostate enlargement is linked to increasing levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone made in the prostate from circulating testosterone. It may seem strange that men become prone to BPH in later life, when testosterone levels are declining, but recent research suggests the cause could be deterioration of valves in the spermatic vein, allowing testosterone-charged blood from the testes to directly flood the prostate.

Keep weight down, avoid bad fats and beer

From a nutritional perspective, the first issue to look at is your weight, since obesity has been strongly linked to BPH incidence. The balance between saturated fats and unsaturated fatty acids in the diet also appears to be important, so cut down on the burgers and eat more oily fish and nuts instead. Omega-3 essential fatty acids, in particular, tend to be low in men with BPH. Steer clear of caffeine and alcohol if you have BPH, since they increase your need to urinate and can cause bladder irritation. Beer should be avoided in particular (sorry guys!), as it increases levels of the hormone prolactin, which in turn increases the amount of DHT your prostate produces. Prostate tissue contains the highest levels of zinc anywhere in the body. In laboratory experiments, adding zinc to BPH cells dramatically reduced their rate of proliferation, suggesting that it plays an important role in regulating prostate cell growth. You can find zinc in shellfish (especially oysters), meat, dairy products, grains and seeds.

Pumpkin seeds and herbal extracts can help

Pumpkin seeds are particularly high in zinc, as well as providing good fatty acids. They also contain beta-sitosterol, a fatty compound that appears to block the conversion of testosterone to DHT. A trial in Germany involving 2,245 men with BPH found that pumpkin seed extract reduced symptoms by 41% and improved quality of life by 46%, after 12 weeks of treatment. Finally, some herbs can help to relieve BPH symptoms. The best known of these is saw palmetto, which is prescribed as a standard treatment in Germany and is as effective as some conventional drugs. Recent research shows that saw palmetto is even more powerful if taken together with lycopene (from tomatoes) and selenium. Pygeum africanum contains atraric acid, which has been found to block the effects of DHT by deactivating androgen receptors on prostate cells. Stinging nettle and African potato (Hypoxis rooperi) are two more herbs that have shown encouraging results against BPH in clinical trials. 

MEN'S HEALTH, Prostate, testosterone
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