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The Forgotten Gland

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Understanding Prostate Health Every man knows the word prostate, but very few know its purpose or even its location. The prostate is a walnut- sized gland situated below the bladder.

Every man knows the word prostate, but very few know its purpose or even its location. The prostate is a walnut- sized gland situated below the bladder. Its main function is to secrete an alkaline liquid called the seminal fluid. This fluid consists mostly of sugars (fructose) and enables the spermatozoids to function properly.

A quick look at statistics shows that by age 50, 50 percent of men have symptoms of an enlarged prostate. By age 80, 100 percent of men have either symptoms of or a latent form of enlarged prostate. The good news is an enlarged prostate, called benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), can be prevented.

An enlarged prostate is actually caused by hyperplasia. It doesn't mean swelling but rather an increase in the number of cells.

Therefore, hyperplasia implies that the process cannot be reversed, either by medication or by herbs. But BPH symptoms can be reduced and its progression can be stopped or slowed down with herbal supplements, proper diet and regular check-ups.

The process leading to an enlarged prostate gland starts with low blood levels of free testosterone. Prostate cells depend on testosterone to function properly so they secrete an enzyme (5-alpha-reductase) to transform what's left of the testosterone into a 10-times stronger hormone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). However, the body is ill-adapted to the hormone, which stimulates the growth of new prostate cells (hyperplasia) and new hormone receptors. DHT is so potent that, at a certain point, it becomes toxic. The prostate cells try to get rid of it by secreting another enzyme (aromatase) that transforms both DHT and testosterone into estrogens. Estrogens will compound the BPH problem by reducing the free testosterone in the blood stream thus creating a vicious cycle.

Hyperplasia or Cancer?

Benign means not cancerous. So, BPH and cancer are two different conditions. A man may have prostate cancer and not BPH. The best way to know whether you have one of these conditions is to see your health practitioner at least once a year for a check-up.

Two basic tests are routinely done to men over 50. The first and most dreaded one is the rectal exam. It may not be comfortable but is normally not painful. This test serves to distinguish between a normal prostate, BPH, cancer and prostatitis.

In BPH, the prostate is neither tender nor painful and doesn't have any bumps. If the prostate is painful, you probably suffer from prostatitis, an easily treated infection of the prostate. If there are bumps, it may be cancerous and will have to be investigated further. Remember if it's prostate cancer it has a good rate of remission when treated early.

The second test is called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). It's a blood test that looks for a marker of cancerous cells. The test is not very specific since PSA can be increased in other conditions such as prostatitis. Nevertheless, a sudden increase in the levels of this antigen is serious and should be further investigated by your physician.

Nature's Remedy for Men

Let's look at what herbals and nutrients can do for prostate health. The effectiveness and safety of certain herbs are supported by clinical data. The most known and studied are African plum tree (Pygeum africanum), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and pumpkin seeds (Cucurbita pepo). These herbs all inhibit, to various degrees, the enzyme that creates dihydrotestosterone (the 5-alpha-reductase). Besides inhibiting this enzyme, saw palmetto also reduces inflammation and may dislodge the DHT from its cellular receptors, stopping its effect on cell growth. African plum tree is the only herb to inhibit the second enzyme called aromatase.

Stinging nettle only has a minor effect on BPH but is mostly noted for its synergistic effect with African plum tree.

Three nutrients are also known to benefit the prostate: zinc, vitamin B6 and magnesium. Zinc and vitamin B6 are needed for proper hormone metabolism and zinc is also said to reduce the formation of DHT. Magnesium relaxes the sphincter of the urethra. In BPH, this sphincter tends to contract, increasing urinal symptoms.

In the case of cancer, studies show that most occurrences can be prevented with certain food nutrients. Lycopene, a carotenoid (member of the betacarotene family found predominantly in tomatoes), has 60 times the antioxidant potential of betacarotene and has been shown to reduce the tumour size and the occurrence of cancer. Natural lycopene supplement, directly from tomatoes or pink grapefruits (or from a natural source extract) is more effective than synthetic lycopene.

Other foods such as soy (in moderation and non-genetically engineered) are known to reduce or prevent many cancers including prostate cancer. Flax seeds are known for their effect on hormonal-dependent cancers because they contain lignans that block the potentially dangerous hormones. Selenium is also recognized for its effect on cancer.

Also be sure to follow a whole food diet rich in highly coloured fruits and vegetables. Help your body fight back with nature's help.

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