Prostate Health Tuneup
L. Weston, Ph.D.
Q: Im 53 and was diagnosed with
prostate enlargement four years ago. I checked with my doctor and she recommended using
the herb saw palmetto and a zinc supplement.
Now my prostate is back to normal and I hope Ill
never have enlargement again. My erections are fine and I hope to have them until Im
100! Im a vegetarian, dont smoke and have only one alcoholic drink a day. Do
you have any other suggestions?
A: Your doctors advice agrees with
the literature Ive reviewed. Whats most convincing and pleasing to you, no
doubt, is your own positive experience.
prostate is a small gland in men that encircles the neck of the bladder and the urethra
(the tube connecting the bladder to the outside of the body). Just before ejaculation
occurs the prostate adds some fluid to the semen, which carries the sperm.
disorders are among the most common health problems men encounter. The prostate generally
gets larger as men age, particularly after age 55, and this growth can pinch the urethra,
making it difficult to empty the bladder. The condition is usually painless, but it can be
frustrating to live with. Full-blown prostatitis occurs when the gland gets infected or
irritated. The swelling can block the ducts that drain the prostate of fluid. This can
further aggravate an infection.
If the enlargement becomes too great (a normally
chestnut-sized gland can become as large as an orange), or if cancer develops, surgery can
sometimes interrupt a man's sexual functioning. Radical surgery that involves incisions in
the perineum, the area between the anus and the scrotum, frequently results in the loss of
erection ability. Minor surgery that leaves most pelvic nerves intact in most cases will
not impair erections. Allow for recovery time, sometimes up to nine months, before
expecting pre-surgical sexual functioning to return.
So, as you found out, it's important to maintain the
health of your prostate. How often to get a prostate examination depends on several
factors. Men over 40 with prostate problems in their family history should get annual
exams, as should African American men, who have the highest incidence of prostate cancer
in the world for reasons not yet determined. Other men over 40 should be examined every
two years, and all men over 50 should have annual prostate examinations. When problems
including cancer are detected and treated early, chances for recovery are
As for your doctor's recommendation of saw palmetto,
the herb has been catching on in the last few years. It is derived from a palm tree that
typically grows in the southeastern United States. The tree produces a dark berry that was
used a century ago to treat urinary problems.
Saw palmetto acts like the prescription medication Proscar (finasteride),
which is often prescribed for men in their 50s and older. The hormone dihydrotestosterone, normally present in men, may begin
to cause prostate overgrowth in older men. Saw palmetto causes the prostate tissue to
shrink, so there is less pinching on the urethra as it goes through the prostate on its
way to the penis.
Saw palmetto had been used as a diuretic by Native
Americans and physicians for many years. But during the 1940s and 1950s, the medical
establishment in the United States preferred laboratory synthesized drugs over herbal
approaches. Most herbs that had any effect on the pelvic area of men and women were
perceived as "sex herbs" and came into question in the 1950s. So, saw palmetto
was abandoned as a treatment.
While saw palmetto is growing in popularity again, it
pays to keep in mind when using any herb that they are considered nutritional supplements
by the Food and Drug Administration and therefore are not tested for safety or
effectiveness. And even though herbs are called "natural" products, overdosing
You also may have an advantage because of your
vegetarian diet. In 1995, Alice Whitemore of Stanford University studied 1,665 men with
prostate cancer and an equal number of matched controls, or men without prostate cancer
who were similar in most other important ways. Whitemore and her colleagues found that as
dietary saturated fat consumption increased, so did the presence of prostate cancer.
The National Cancer Institute agrees with the findings
of this and many other nutritional studies that have pointed to the health benefits of a
low-fat, high-fiber diet. The NCI has shown its support by creating the "Strive for
Five" program to encourage five servings of fruits and vegetables daily to decrease
the rate of nearly all types of cancer.
Fruits and vegetables help in other ways, too. Normal
biological processes produce free radicals oxygen molecules that have lost an
electron and create havoc by snatching electrons from other molecules. Free radicals are
also produced by exposure to substances such as cigarette smoke. Vitamins A, C and E,
found abundantly in fruits and vegetables, come to the rescue by donating electrons so the
free radicals don't have to steal them from the body's cells.
And heres a study you may find interesting: In 1986, British urologist
Anjan K. Banerjee at the Manchester Royal Infirmary speculated that frequent ejaculations
helped to keep the prostate healthy and cancer-free. Dr. Banerjee tested his idea on 423 men who ranged in age
from 60 to 80; 274 of the men had prostate cancer and 149 did not. Each man was asked to
estimate his ejaculatory frequency per week during the sexually active periods throughout
his life. This included ejaculation by any means.
The men with no prostate cancer reported ejaculating
significantly more frequently than those with prostate cancer. Dr. Banerjee could not come
to a conclusion about what caused the connection between ejaculation rate and prostate
health, but he did suggest that reduced ejaculation frequency appeared to promote the
development of the disease.
This is only one study. But it is a provocative one,
and, to my knowledge, no criticisms of its methodology have emerged. Still, it would be a
misuse of this research data to insist that your sexual partner have sexual experiences
with you when that person isn't willing or interested, just to preserve your prostate.
Remember, the study included all ejaculations and that includes those reached through
masturbation. Prostate health is always the responsibility of its owner.