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Prostate Problems


Doctor donning gloves

In health the prostate gland is a walnut-shaped gland that sits right beneath the bladder and it functions to produce some of the fluids necessary for male fertility. 

Immature sperm are synthesised in the testes and then stored in a long convoluted tubule known as the epididymis attached to the testicles where they further mature prior to ejaculation. Sperm account for approximately 10% of the ejaculate.

During ejaculation, the sperm take a rather circuitous route in the spermatic cords either side of the bladder to join the urethra just below the bladder. It is here that the doughnut shaped prostate gland can be found.

The prostate gland produces a thin, milky fluid which makes up about 30% of semen and which gives it a milky appearance. The fluid is slightly alkaline and provides a protective environment for sperm in the acidic terrain of the vagina. It also contains a clotting enzyme so that the ejaculate thickens and is retained in the vagina, thus enhancing the chances of fertilisation of the ovum.

The seminal vesicles also drain into the urethra adjacent to the prostate gland and these produce 60% of the ejaculate providing nutrients to support the sperm on their journey. 

The prostate gland lies just in front of the rectum and doctors can palpate it to detect any enlargement or change in texture from the norm.  

There are urethral sphincters above the prostate gland (to prevent passage of ejaculate into the bladder) and below (to control the passage of urine).

The prostate gland starts to grow around puberty in response to production of the male sex hormone, testosterone. A small percentage of men are born without a prostate gland, and as a consequence, are by definition infertile.

Cross section of male pelvis

Prostate infections

Infections can spread from the urethra or bladder to the prostate gland and this may be spontaneous or follow procedures such as catheterisation, cytoscopy, urethral dilatation or surgery. Occasionally fibrosis may occur during healing after infection and this can cause restriction or obstruction of the urethra. This may prevent effective bladder emptying and can cause infection to back-up into the kidneys causing conditions such as pyelonephritis which can potentially prove life threatening.

Bacteria within the urinary system can split urea into two molecules of ammonia so that any ammonia smell associated with the urine is a tell-tale sign of a urinary tract infection.

Acute bacterial prostatitis symptoms can come on very suddenly and include the following:

  • Chills, fever and sweating
  • Foul smelling, cloudy and bloody urine
  • Lower back or perineal pain (the area between the testicles and anus)
  • Pain with urination and passing faeces
  • An inability to urinate and empty the bladder, or the need to urinate frequently and
  • Painful ejaculation.

 

Chronic bacterial infections of the prostate gland tend to develop more slowly and may not to be as severe. Signs include: 
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain and burning on urination
  • Aching sensation in the lower abdomen
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain in the penile and scrotal area
  • Blood in the semen
  • Low grade fever and
  • Painful ejaculation.

 

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)

This is very common and affects 5-10% of men aged 30, 50% of 50 year olds, 70% of 70 year olds and 90% of men aged 85 or over. Nearly all men show signs of benign prostate tumours at autopsy. The signs of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) include:

  • Increased urinary frequency
  • Increased night-time awakening to empty the bladder
  • Difficulty fully emptying the bladder 
  • Reduced force and calibre of urination and
  • Post-void dribbling.

 

If the prostate gland becomes enlarged it can distort or restrict the urethra and this can create resistance against which the bladder has to push during urination. 

In benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) the prostate may be two or three times larger than normal and feel softer and this can be detected by a manual prostate exam. If an abnormality is detected, then blood tests to measure Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) may be conducted to determine whether the enlargement is due to BPH or cancer. 

The causes of BPH may include a decline in male sex hormones, viruses, mineral deficiencies, free radical damage and toxins - particularly toxic metals such as nickel and mercury. Mercury particularly accumulates in the pituitary glands, testes, and prostate gland in men.

In addition to acting as a xeno-oestrogen (mimicking oestrogen) and lowering testosterone levels, mercury also has other adverse effects on the male reproductive system including lowering sperm counts, decreasing sperm motility, creating defective sperm, damaging and breaking DNA, and causing aberrant chromosome numbers in sperm.

Nickel has also been found to accumulate in the prostate and be related to prostate cancer. Nickel undermines the immune system and enables bacteria to thrive using urea as food. 

It is also worth noting that the nerves involved in erection also lie directly adjacent to the prostate gland and allopathic treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy and cryosurgery can damage these nerves resulting in impotence. There is also the additional potential consequences of adhesions or perforations of bowel and bladder by the use of surgery or radiotherapy to rectify any prostate problems.

If you are experiencing problems with urination it is important to get a prostate exam to rule out the possibility of cancer. Also, if BPH is left inadequately treated, the long-term retention of urine may ultimately result in kidney damage, so it is important not to ignore the warning signs. 

 

Prostate tumours

At a prostate exam, the gland will feel harder and the border less well defined. Knowing the intimate nature of the exam, and potentially fearing the result, many men leave an enlarged prostate gland untreated. However, prostate cancer can readily spread in the pelvic and abdominal lymph nodes to the bone and typically to the lumbar vertebrae. 

Note that if you have a male relative who has had prostate cancer, it increases the possibility of contracting cancer and an annual examination is definitely advised after mid-life. 

 

General advice for prostate health

General advice for maintaining a healthy prostate gland or reversing benign prostate hypertrophy includes: 

  • Drink plenty of water to keep flushing the urinary tract. Unsweetened cranberry juice can help with urinary tract and prostate infections. 
  • If not doing so already, take a good multivitamin/mineral supplement ideally one specifically formulated for men in whatever age group you belong to eg: under 40s/over 40s.
  • You may wish to supplement additional antioxidants and pycnogenol which is extracted commercially from grape seeds and/or the bark of the French Maritime Pine is reported to be particularly effective in relation to prostate problems. 
  • You may also wish to supplement additional zinc (45 - 60 mg/day depending upon severity of symptoms), selenium, vitamin C and essential fatty acids. 
  • Reduce alcohol consumption - particularly of beer and wine.
  • Taking a combination of amino acids particularly glycine, alanine and glutamic acid (200 mg each per day) has been shown to help although the exact mode of action is not understood and may relate to providing nourishment for the prostate gland or altering the balance of neurotransmitters. 
  • Elevated cholesterol levels are also known to be particularly toxic and carcinogenic to the prostate gland, so it is worth taking sensible (and natural) measures to reduce your blood cholesterol to below 200 mg/dl.
  • Eat a whole food diet, avoiding pesticides where possible by eating organic foods.
  • Diets that are lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein appear to be beneficial to the prostate gland.
  • Reduce or cut out sugar and caffeine. 
  • Either eat flax or pumpkin seeds daily or supplement 1 tbspn of flaxseed oil. These seeds and their oils are naturally rich in zinc and linoleic acid which help to decongest the prostate gland. 
  • Nickel comes from stainless steel cookware and cutlery that contains 8% nickel, and from dental applications including some porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns and bridgework, metal based partial dentures and orthodontic wires. So consider removing potential sources of nickel or avoiding nickel where possible.
  • Avoid metal jewellery and piercings to reduce toxic metal accumulation in the prostate gland. 
  • Follow the programme outlined in Chronic Fatigue, ME and Fibromyalgia: The Natural Recovery Plan to detoxify toxic metals such as mercury and nickel.
  • Eating soy and its products appears to have a beneficial effect upon prostate enlargement.
  • The cadmium derived primarily from cigarette smoke is known to be particularly harmful to the prostate gland. Quit smoking if you can.
  • Supplement bee pollen which contains all known water-soluble vitamins and a gonadotrophic hormone which stimulates the sex glands and helps promote production of testosterone and growth hormones. 
  • Watermelon seeds have natural diuretic properties and also act an antioxidant. They are purported to help prevent excess build up of urine due to enlargement of the prostate gland.  

 

Herbs for prostatitis

In many European countries such as Germany, Austria and Italy, herbs are regarded as the first line of treatment by doctors. Herbs used include:

  • Saw Palmetto extract This is the fat soluble extract of the fruit of the Saw Palmetto plant - a native of Florida. Recommended doses are 160 mg twice daily. Studies have shown that Saw Palmetto extract can increase urine flow by 38% for prostatitis and BPH, while helping to treat infection. 90% of men experience mild to moderate improvement in symptoms during the first 4-6 weeks after beginning to take Saw Palmetto extract. 
  • Pygeum Africanum this is derived from an evergreen tree native to Africa. The bark contains soluble sterols and fatty acids which are reported to be an excellent supplement for a healthy prostate. 
  • Urtica Dioca (Stinging Nettle root) This is widely used in Europe to treat BPH and is often combined with Saw Palmetto. The mode of action is not fully understood but it may act directly on prostate cells or may affect sex hormone levels. 
  • Cernilton This is derived from rye grass pollen and a recommended dose is 63 mg twice daily for 12 weeks. 

 

Other herbs also employed for prostate enlargement or urinary tract infections include: Buchu, Couch Grass, Cramp Bark, Goldenseal, Juniper Berrries, Marshmallow, Skullcap, Siberian Ginseng, Valerian, Echinacea, Dong Quai, and Comfrey. Many male health formulas contain a blend of herbs, vitamins and minerals to boost prostate health.

 

Further resources

For supplements available to order through this site go to the Supplements Hub

You might also be interested in the following: 

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Urinary Incontinence

The Kidneys

Supporting Kidney Function

Common Male Health Problems

Health Concerns About Nickel

Antioxidants

Selenium

The Fragile Libido

Testing for Toxic Metals

Research: Mercury and the Genitourinary System

For a comprehensive approach to detoxifying toxic metals using natural means, please refer to The Natural Recovery Plan book

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Mercury and Infertility

 

Or for all media use the Search facility at the top of the page

 

Prostate problems: Article summary

This article looks at the common problem of prostate enlargement in men and offers lifestyle, dietary and supplement suggestions to reduce prostate enlargement.

 


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The Natural Recovery Plan Ezine November 2011 Issue 23. Copyright Alison Adams 2011. All rights reserved
Dr Alison Adams Dentist, Naturopath, Author and Online Health Coach www.thenaturalrecoveryplan.com

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