by Jon Moma, ND
There is nothing more synonymous to men’s health than the prostate. It may seem insignificant in early years, but as men age, it rivals other vital organs in terms of its association with quality of life. Enlargement of the prostate, referred to as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is a normal process of aging, bringing with it urinary tract symptoms, such as urgency, nighttime urination, pain or pressure and inability to urinate smoothly. For some men, this enlargement can also lead to prostate cancer if left unchecked. By age 55, one in four men will experience prostate enlargement, and by age 70, that number increases to one in two! Historically, surgical removal of the prostate was the only option available for symptom relief. Fortunately, men now have choices, both pharmaceutical and natural, for treatment.
In cases of mild BPH, I first recommend saw palmetto (Serenoa repens). It is safe for long-term use and supported by numerous studies, both as a single agent and in combination with pharmaceutical agents. Primarily, it limits the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, the more pro-inflammatory form of the hormone. Secondarily, it decreases the effect of certain growth factors that are seen in BPH.
Another great option for mild to moderate cases of BPH is stinging nettle root (Urtica dioica). It effectively limits the amount of testosterone that interacts with the prostate, decreasing the hormone’s ability to stimulate prostate growth. Nettles are also rich in minerals that are essential for proper prostate function.
For men diagnosed with moderate to severe BPH, a combination of pharmaceutical treatments and natural therapies will be most effective. I tend of start with an alpha-1 blocker (such as Flomax) in combination with saw palmetto.
In terms of preventing enlargement of the prostate, shrinking your risk factors is most important. It is vital to address any underlying vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Both zinc and vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to BPH and prostate cancer. In terms of Vitamin D, I make sure my male patients are at levels between 50-70 ng/ml. Anything below 20 ng/ml puts you at high risk for several cancers. See your doctor for testing options.
Diet also plays a strong role in development and progression of prostate disorders. I recommend patients with family history of prostate cancer work on maintaining a normal body mass index (BMI), limit red meat (<500g/week), eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables and fruit (>5 servings/day), limit alcohol (<2 drinks/day) and sodium consumption (<2.4g/day). In terms of exercise, 60 minutes or more of moderate intensity or at least 30 minutes of vigorous intensity daily.
It is important to work with your doctor to determine the cause of your urinary tract symptoms before starting any treatment. Discuss with your doctor all the options that exist. In cases of mild to moderate BPH, I generally counsel men to try natural therapies for three months before starting pharmaceutical therapy, which may cause side effects such as low blood pressure and sexual dysfunction.
Most importantly, with any natural therapy, you have to be a smart consumer. Herbal medicines are not regulated in the same way as conventional medications. The ingredients may be misrepresented and the dosages may not be adequate to be effective. For this reason, I strongly recommend working with a practitioner who is knowledgeable about herbal supplements and buying them from a reputable source. If you try a brand and it’s not working, feel free to try another manufacturer before deciding the therapy isn’t effective. There can be vast differences in quality.
For the majority of men who will experience prostate symptoms during their lifetime, there is indeed reason to rejoice. Safe and effective treatment of BPH is a reality, regardless of age and family history. Work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that is both proactive and personalized for you.
Jon Moma, ND, is a licensed physician at Federal Way Naturopathy. He specializes in cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders and men’s health. For more information visit fwnmedical.com or call 253.942.3301.