Testosterone. Watermelon. Working out. Statin drugs. Green tea. What do these have in common?
The answer is: prostate health.
June 13-19 is National Men’s Health Week, culminating in Father’s Day. It’s a great time for a few pointers on prostate health. That walnut-sized gland tucked away in the pelvic bed plays a key role in a man’s quality of life. It affects his sex life and, without it, there would be no fathers. It also impacts urination. As men age, the small gland can create big problems with urination due to a condition called BPH that can disrupt sleep for nighttime bathroom visits or reduce daytime flow to a slow dribble.
Urology is the medical specialty that deals with male and female “plumbing”: kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Urologists also specialize in male sexual anatomy (prostate, seminal vesicles, testes and penis). Note that in men, the urethra (tube that carries urine out of the bladder) passes through the prostate, which is why the prostate affects urination as well as sexuality.
Why is prostate health important?
Remember those Sex Ed classes in school? A quick review illustrates the value of a healthy prostate:
- The nerve and blood vessels needed for erection are in direct contact with the prostate since they “hug” the outer margin of the gland. Those delicate neurovascular bundles can be impacted by prostate cancer treatment, so prostate cancer prevention and early detection do your prostate huge favors.
- A man’s contribution to having babies (Happy Father’s Day, you dads out there!) depends on the fluid manufactured by the prostate. That fluid carries the sperm cells out of the body, so without it their journey would be over before it even began.
- The prostate gland surrounds the urinary passage out of the bladder. At the tip (apex) of the gland farthest from the bladder lies a small muscle group that gives you voluntary control of urination. If that group is damaged, stressed or weakened, the result can be embarrassing.
Thus, the prostate gland performs functions that are among the most intimate sources of a man’s identity and self-esteem. It’s a small engine but it adds power to your macho machine.
How to keep your prostate tuned up
Unlike a mechanical engine that can suddenly break down, problems with the prostate gland usually develop slowly and quietly. The causes of prostate problems, including prostate cancer, can include things that you may already connect with cardiovascular health. They are the usual culprits: poor nutrition, lack of antioxidants, saturated fats, processed foods, sugar, red meat, smoking, alcohol abuse, lack of exercise, stress, poor sleep habits, family history of prostate disease, etc. You’re probably thinking, what do they have to do with my prostate?
You may be surprised to learn that ED (erectile dysfunction) is often the first sign of heart disease. Special cells called endothelial cells line all the blood vessels in your body – including the spongy tissue in your penis. Their job is to make the walls of veins and arteries flexible to assist with blood flow. When your blood vessels are elastic, you have better erections. When your erections become more difficult, the cause may be lack of flexibility due to nonfunctioning endothelial cells. If they’re not working well below the belt, you can be sure they’re having problems above the belt. ED may also be connected with low testosterone. For many men, testosterone replacement therapy makes a significant difference.
Lifestyle changes are an investment in living cancer-free. Some studies suggest that men who take statins (to control cholesterol) are at reduced risk for prostate cancer. Similar studies have raised interest in aspirin for possibly preventing recurrence after prostate cancer treatment. Dr. Dean Ornish and others have shown that changing to pro-healthy habits in all areas can alter the genes that regulate tumor growth and development and thus controlling the growth of prostate cancer. As research goes ever more deeply into how cells function in response to genomic (molecular) activity, the message that’s coming across is, “You CAN prevent prostate cancer!”
As for urinary health, the most non-infection common source of difficulties for men is BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia). While this is a common condition that occurs with aging, there is no known prevention for it. However, symptoms can often be managed in simple ways. Supplements like saw palmetto seem to help some men. If the condition worsens, there are medications and minimally invasive, effective treatments.
The bottom line
Prostate health is intertwined with a man’s identity and how he is able to conduct his daily life. The same practices that promote heart health and boost your immune system also benefit your prostate. The best gift you can give yourself (and those you love) is your good health, and that includes the small but mighty prostate.
We plan a broad range of future articles. Topics include going more deeply into subjects mentioned in this article, women’s urology/incontinence. We welcome your questions and suggestions for future articles. Don’t hesitate to contact us at AskAUS@auspecialists.com and let us know what interests you.