For such a small gland, the prostate can cause men some mighty big problems. As the saying goes, location is everything, and for men, the prostate is very strategically and delicately located. Unfortunately, to the dismay of middle-aged men, the gland has a tendency to enlarge — a condition known as benign prostate hyperplasia or BPH. The symptoms resulting from this particular enlargement are not merely a source of embarrassment, they can also lead to more serious and potent conditions such as infection, kidney damage and impotence.
Prostate problems among men are extremely common. According to a number of surveys, more than half of men over the age of 65 have experienced some of the symptoms of BPH enlargement. By the age of 80, that figure jumps to 90%. Every year, an estimated $4 billion is spent on prostate surgery alone. Add to that the massive cost of various drugs prescription in an attempt to alleviate the symptoms, and you end up with a very costly condition.
Fortunately, thanks to modern science and research, an enlarged prostate does not have to be an inevitable consequence of ageing. If your gland has enlarged, it does not signal the end of the world. There are natural herbal remedies and alternatives that are much less expensive and have far fewer side effects than drugs and surgery. To fully comprehend these natural alternatives, it is imperative that we first understand the cause of BPH.
How The Prostate Works
Sitting just underneath the bladder, the prostate secretes the milky fluids that carry sperm to its final destination. These secretions are heavily influenced by male hormones produced in the testicles. Coursing through the centre of the prostate is the urethra, which provides a conduit for both urine and prostatic secretions. Alongside the urethra are the nerves that control erectile function in the penis. These structures are delicate and can be damaged easily by swelling, infection, or surgical procedures — all of which can lead to loss of function.
As the prostate enlarges, it begins to squeeze the urethra, interfering with the flow of urine. This makes it increasingly difficult to initiate urination and to maintain a flow sufficient to empty the bladder. Typically, the symptoms begin with frequent nighttime urges to void, followed by a persistent sense of urgency. Over time, the bladder has to work increasingly harder to force urine through the narrow urethra. As a result, the muscles in its walls get thicker and more sensitive, causing an almost constant need to urinate.
The two main tools that doctors use to evaluate prostate problems are a rectal exam and a blood test called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. Although it has not been proven that BPH leads to cancer, having enlarged gland makes cancer harder to detect as it is more difficult to feel for any tumours when the glands are swollen. Additionally, while an increase in the blood of PSA can be an indicator of cancer, and enlarged gland can also cause an elevation in PSA. In both these cases, a biopsy, an ultrasound or more sophisticated lab tests may be necessary to ensure that malignancy is not present.
For men with mild BPH, treatment is not recommended until the symptoms become disruptive. At that point, medication is prescribed to either relax or dilate the urethra and allowing urine to flow more freely, or to inhibit the production of certain male hormones, which allow the glands to decrease in size. If this strategy does not work, surgery may be suggested, which typically involves cutting out the excess glandular tissue, otherwise known as prostatectomy. While surgery is highly effective, it does bring along with its potentially serious side effects, such as impotence and incontinence. For many men, such side effects are certainly not worth the risk, especially for those who are still planning to have offspring.
Why It Gets Enlarged
What accounts for the prostate’s tendency to enlarge? Multiple research seems to point towards hormonal imbalances. As men age, blood levels of testosterone, which is considered the primary male hormone, gradually drop, while oestrogen levels increase. Simultaneously, the remaining testosterone is converted into increasingly high levels of its active form, dihydrotestosterone or DHT. Coincidentally, this is the same hormone that causes baldness in men. The combination of high levels of DHT and increased oestrogen has been shown to stimulate the growth of prostate issue.
The key to understanding this situation is an enzyme found in the prostate called 5 alpha-reductase. This enzyme converts testosterone into DHT. It appears that agents which increase DHT do so by directly or indirectly activation 5 alpha-reductase. For instance, pesticides and industrial solvents are known to increase the concentration of DHT in the prostate. Elevated blood cholesterol, higher alcohol intake and a diet in refined carbohydrates are also suspected culprits.