The prostate gland, present only in men, is situated under the bladder surrounding the urethra, the passageway that takes the urine to the outside. The gland produces seminal fluid, which is mixed with sperm to make semen.
With age, the gland may begin to grow – this happens to most men. The growth may eventually cause problems with urine flow, because the gland squashes the urethra as it increases its size.
The growth in itself is harmless and so the condition is called benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH). It occurs most often in men over the age of 60. Up to 30% of men in their 70s have BPH accompanied by symptoms.
Symptoms start to appear when enlargement of the prostate gland stretches and distorts the urethra and begins to obstruct the urine flow. They include:
- Weak or interrupted urinary flow
- A feeling that the bladder is not completely empty
- Difficulty initiating urine flow, even when the bladder feels full
- A need to urinate often during the day and night
- A feeling of urgency to urinate
- Involuntary discharge of urine
- Dribbling of urine after urination
- Burning sensation or pain during urination
Symptoms can vary considerably and may not always be indicative of prostate enlargement.
Although BPH is not linked to cancer and does not increase its risk, because some cancers may cause similar symptoms, men with problems urinating should always see their doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Hormonal imbalances: throughout their lives, men produce both testosterone, an important male hormone, along with small amounts of oestrogen, a female hormone. As men age, the amount of active testosterone in the blood decreases, leaving a higher proportion of oestrogen. Studies suggest that BPH may occur because the higher amount of oestrogen within the gland increases the activity of substances that promote cell growth.
Another theory focuses on dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a substance derived from testosterone in the prostate and which may help control its growth. Some research indicates that whilst levels of testosterone drop, older men continue to produce and accumulate high levels of DHT in the prostate. This accumulation of DHT may encourage the growth of cells. Scientists have also noted that men who do not produce DHT do not develop BPH.
A Male Hormone Panel measures baseline testosterone levels and other hormones involved in hormone health. Smart Nutrition can also analyse your dietary intake and advise you on ways to reduce the conversion of testosterone to DHT.
Alcohol and smoking: alcohol and chemicals found in cigarette smoke such as cadmium have also been implicated in BPH development. Alcohol can contribute to the hormonal imbalances that precede BPH and cadmium can increase production of the prostate growth encouraging hormone DHT.
Giving up alcohol or smoking can be a difficult task: nutritional therapy can be a valuable support through this process, with diet and supplement advice to support your body and reduce cravings.
Poor diet: a diet high in saturated fats and low in fibre can exacerbate inflammatory processes within the body and reduce the body’s ability to effectively deal with excess hormones. Optimising dietary habits can help to slow prostate enlargement and minimise symptoms.
NutrEval is a comprehensive overview of your overall nutrient status and can be used to target key problem areas that may be exacerbating BHP.
Antioxidant status: oxidative stress occurs when body cells are damaged by free radicals, some of which are made in the body and some by external sources such as sun exposure, pollution, fried foods, smoking and alcohol.
Normally the body has very good mechanisms for mopping these chemicals up, but research shows that free radical levels may be particularly high in sufferers of BPH, suggesting that oxidative stress may play a role in its development.
If you’re concerned about your levels of free radical damage, an Oxidative Stress Test gives an indication about the level oxidative stress your body is under and how well your defence mechanisms are working.