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Did you know a man’s prostate is about the size of a walnut when he’s in his 20s, and by the time he is 40, it may have grown to the size of an apricot (NCI-a, n.d.)? In some men, an enlarged prostate causes no symptoms, while in others, it can be highly disruptive to their lives. This article will go over the most significant concerns related to the prostate, and we’ll give you six strategies for improving prostate health.
What is the prostate?
The prostate gland is a part of the male reproductive system and is located just below the bladder, right in front of the rectum. Having the prostate so close to the rectum makes it possible to insert a finger into the anus and feel the gland during a digital rectal exam (DRE). In men younger than 40 years old, the prostate gland is about the size of a walnut; typically, the prostate increases in size as men get older (NCI-a, n.d.).
The prostate gland’s primary function is to make and secrete prostatic fluid, one of the components of semen. This fluid both transports sperm and keeps them healthy. Prostatic fluid typically accounts for up to 30-35% of semen volume. Around 60% of semen comes from the seminal vesicles; only 5% of semen is sperm, which is produced in the testicles (Lawrentschuk, 2016; NCI-b, n.d.).
Signs of an enlarged prostate
It is normal for the prostate to grow in size throughout a man’s life. The prostate goes through two main growth periods, the first early in puberty, when the prostate doubles in size. The second growth phase continues during most of a man’s life and usually starts around age 25 (NIDDK, 2014).
With increasing age, this growth can lead to a host of symptoms, referred to as lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). One of the most common signs that your prostate is getting bigger is needing to get up to urinate at night (nocturia) more often than when you were younger. If you experience any LUTS, you should inform your healthcare provider. Some of the most common LUTS include (Ng, 2020):
- Needing to urinate frequently
- Needing to urinate more often at night (nocturia)
- Trouble starting urination
- Feeling like your bladder is full, even after you have just finished urinating.
- A weak urine stream
- Starting and frequently stopping during urination
- Having to strain to urinate
Most common prostate issues
As you get older, the risk of prostate issues increases. The most common problems are benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis), and prostate cancer.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia
Benign prostatic hyperplasia or hypertrophy (BPH), also known as an enlarged prostate, is a common condition of older men. According to the Urology Care Foundation, approximately half of all men between 51 and 60 have BPH. This number increases with age, and about 90% of men over 80 years old are affected by BPH (Urology Care Foundation, n.d.).
Prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate gland; often, the prostate is swollen and tender. Prostatitis is very common and can happen to men of all ages. It is essential to note that it does not increase the risk of prostate cancer (NCI-a, n.d.).
Both bacteria and inflammation can cause prostatitis. The four main types of prostatitis are (NCI-a, n.d.):
- Acute bacterial prostatitis is caused by bacteria and develops rapidly; fortunately, it is the easiest to treat. Common symptoms include fevers/chills and blood in the urine, and treatment with a 2–4 week course of antibiotics is usually effective (Nickel, 2011).
- Chronic bacterial prostatitis is also caused by bacteria but develops slowly. One of the main symptoms is having bladder infections that keep coming back. 60–80% of patients improve after taking antibiotics for several weeks.
- Chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS) has symptoms that vary from person to person and include urination problems, pain with ejaculation, and pelvic pain. Treatments are based on your symptoms and include anti-inflammatory medications, alpha-blockers, and antibiotics (Pirola, 2019).
- Asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis has no symptoms but is often discovered while testing for other conditions. Because it is asymptomatic, treatment is generally not necessary.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the United States after skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 248,530 men will receive a new diagnosis of prostate cancer, and about 34,130 will die from the disease (ACS, 2021-a). One of the most significant risk factors for prostate cancer is age. In men younger than 40, prostate cancer is rare—but the chance of having prostate cancer rises rapidly after age 50.
Other than age, additional risk factors include being African-American, family history, smoking, and a diet high in saturated fat (ACS, 2021-a).
6 ways to support a healthy prostate
1. Quit Smoking
If you smoke, quitting is one of the most powerful interventions you can make for your prostate health (not to mention your overall health). Unfortunately, there’s not much good research on the link between smoking and getting prostate cancer. But what we do know is that men with prostate cancer who smoke have a 61% increased risk of dying from prostate cancer compared with men who never smoked (Peisch, 2016).
2. Maintain a healthy body weight
A high body mass index (BMI) doesn’t seem to increase the overall risk of getting prostate cancer by a lot. But research has shown that when a man with obesity gets prostate cancer, he’s at increased risk of developing a more aggressive, faster-growing, and deadlier form of prostate cancer (Peisch, 2016; ACS, 2021-a). So if you need to lose weight, a combination of a healthy diet and exercise can improve your health and protect your prostate.
Physical activity, like jogging, cycling, swimming, or even walking, can improve your prostate health. That also goes for men who got a prostate cancer diagnosis. One study showed that men diagnosed with nonmetastatic prostate cancer who exercised three or more hours each week were 61% less likely to die of their cancer when compared to men with less than one hour of virtuous activity (Kenfield, 2011).
4. Eat a heart-healthy diet
The risk of prostate cancer may increase for men who eat high-fat diets. But so far, there’s no good research showing that cutting down on fat or increasing fruits and vegetables in the diet helps lower the risk of prostate cancer (ACS, 2021-a). However, the research did show that maintaining a heart-healthy diet high in omega-3-fatty acids (especially salmon), low in saturated fats (especially red meat and full-fat dairy), and high in antioxidants (e.g., tomatoes, berries) is beneficial for overall health, including your prostate (Peisch, 2016).
5. Get enough vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is common in older men. Some researchers think there’s a link between vitamin D deficiency and higher rates of BPH, though more research is needed (Espinosa, 2013). Either way, it’s a good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked, especially if you live in an area with little sun. If you’re deficient, you may benefit from a vitamin D supplement (Peisch, 2016).
6. Ask your healthcare provider about prostate cancer screening
Men are supposed to make a shared decision with their health care provider about whether to be screened for prostate cancer or not. The question is when to have that conversation. Most men should ask their healthcare provider about prostate cancer screening at age 50. However, men at higher risk for prostate cancer, including Black men and men with a family history of prostate cancer, should have that conversation with their healthcare provider at age 45 (ACS, 2021-b).
It’s never too early to think about prostate health
Prostate conditions are common, especially as men get older, and it’s important to discuss any changes in urinary or sexual symptoms with your healthcare provider. Engaging in healthy habits, like diet and exercise, can benefit your prostate in addition to your overall health.
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