– The prostate is a walnut-sized gland, that protects and provides nutrients to sperm. This gland often enlarges with age for men after 50 years old, which is called benign enlargement of the prostrate (BPH). However, there are other prostrate problems that are very common as men get older including prostatitis or inflammation of the prostate gland and prostate cancer. Aside from skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cause of cancer in men over the age of 50. However, the death rate for prostate cancer is low and there are many treatment approaches including surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, chemotherapy and watchful waiting.
Benign prostatic hypertrophy or the enlargement of the prostate often causes problems due to the blockage of urinary flow. For some men, there are no symptoms but for others this can lead to difficulty beginning urination, weak flow of urine, dribbling after urination, feeling the bladder is not empty or pain during urination. This condition can be aggravated by over the counter medications including benadryl, pseudoephedrine, oxymetazoline spray (Afrin) and prescription medications including antidepressants and diuretics or narcotics. Treatments for this condition include medicines and surgery. READ MORE ABOUT PROSTATE HEALTH »
Saw palmetto, a natural extract from palm trees, is a supplement that claims to relieve the urinary symptoms from prostate enlargement as well as to enhance sexual function. There is conflicting research, but several studies found that when compared to a common prescription medication for BPH, finasteride, saw palmetto was less effective in relieving symptoms of BPH but men reported fewer erection problems. The only formulation of saw palmetto that demonstrated this effect was the fat-soluble extract of the saw palmetto berry. The saw palmetto teas and water-based preparations did not demonstrate a benefit. However, larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Prostate cancer is another concern for men as they age. There are usually no early symptoms, which makes it important to talk to your physician about being screened. The American Urological Association guidelines now recommend that men between the ages of 55 and 69 be screened using prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing at two to four year intervals. This does not apply to men who are symptomatic or at high risk for prostate cancer.
Some supplements have claimed to provide protection from prostate cancer including lycopene, zinc and selenium. Lycopene is an antioxidant naturally found in foods like tomatoes, carrots and watermelon. There are small studies that demonstrate that for men with a specific family history of prostate cancer, lycopene may offer some small protection but more research is needed to confirm these results. Lycopene did not offer prostate cancer protection for men without this family history.
There were claims that zinc could potentially reduce the risk of prostate cancer. This was not validated in research studies. In fact, some studies demonstrated that taking zinc increased the risk of not only getting prostate cancer but also dying from this cancer. However, more large studies are needed. Selenium is another supplement that claims to reduce the risk for advanced prostate cancer. However, there have been no studies to show any benefits from taking this supplement.
It is important to work with your physician to see if supplements would help with your prostate concerns considering the potential risk of side effects, safety consideration and potential interactions with prescription medications. BACK TO TOP »
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