“Last month I turned 50. Half a century. According to conventional wisdom, it’s time for me to start worrying about prostate problems. But guess what? It’s not time, and I’m not worried. My prostate is doing just fine, thank you, and I plan to take it to the grave with me, unviolated. I do not intend to have it biopsied, reamed, or removed for either benign prostate enlargement or for prostate cancer.”
I made this rather bold statement in Health & Healing in 1994, and I’m happy to report that it holds true. I still have my prostate, I’ve never had any conventional treatments, and I can still write my name in the snow.
How have I managed to avoid the prostate problems that plague so many men my age? Genetics likely plays a role, but I’m convinced it’s primarily because I practice what I preach. Let’s take a look at the prevention and treatment of three common prostate problems.
ABCs of BPH
A weak urine stream, urgency, hesitancy, incomplete emptying, and nighttime trips to the bathroom: These are the classic symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) one of the hallmark prostate problems that plague older men. BPH is caused by age-related enlargement of the prostate. Half of men in their 60s and 85 percent over age 80 have prostates that are large enough to constrict the urethra and cause urinary problems.
Two types of prescription drugs are used for this particular prostate problem. Alpha-blockers such as Flomax, Uroxatral, Hytrin, Cardura, and doxazosin relax the smooth muscles in the prostate and neck of the bladder. They do improve urine flow but may also relax the arteries and can drive blood pressure too low, resulting in lightheadedness and dizziness.
5-alpha reductase inhibitors (ARIs, including Proscar, Adovart, finasteride) shrink the prostate by inhibiting the enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the hormone that stimulates prostate growth. These drugs are bad news. In addition to causing erectile dysfunction, low libido, and ejaculation problems, they are linked with increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer and birth defects in male babies whose mothers are exposed to the drugs during pregnancy.
For intractable symptoms such as urinary retention, invasive procedures may be required. Transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) involves snaking a roto-rooter-like device up through the penis to cut away prostate tissue that block the urethra. Lasers, heat, freezing, microwaves, and radio waves are also used to remove excess tissue, and in very severe cases, prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate) is performed. All these procedures for prostate problems have serious side effects, including surgical, sexual, and urinary complications. And with the exception of prostatectomy, about 10 percent of patients require repeat treatment within five years.
Drugs Versus Saw Palmetto for Prostate Problems
I attribute the fact that I’ve never had to consider drugs or surgery for prostate problems to saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), which I’ve been taking since my mid-40s. Extracts from the berries of this small palm tree inhibit 5-alpha-reductase and thus the conversion of testosterone to DHT and its stimulating effects on the prostate—without the drugs’ adverse effects. And it’s not just for prevention, as demonstrated in numerous clinical trials.
In a recent study, Spanish researchers followed 1,713 men with moderate to severe BPH who were being treated with alpha-blockers, 5-alpha-reduce inhibitors, or herbal supplements. When they were retested after six months, improvements in symptoms and quality of life were similar among all groups. The main difference? The men taking saw palmetto had fewer side effects.
As research has emerged over the years, I’ve added pygeum, beta-sitosterol, stinging nettles, and lycopene to my supplement regimen. But saw palmetto is still my go-to for preventing prostate problems.
The Pain of Prostatitis
I’ve also always taken high doses of zinc. Concentrations of this mineral are 10-15 times higher in the prostate than in other tissues, so it’s obviously important for prostate health, likely due to its antioxidant, immune-boosting, and anti-inflammatory effects—which leads to another common prostate problem: prostatitis.
Prostatitis is an inflammatory condition marked by pain in the pelvis and a burning sensation while urinating. It’s a bear to treat. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics, but just one in 10 cases is due to bacterial infection, so they’re rarely effective. Anti-inflammatory medications, warm baths, prostate massage, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol may reduce symptoms but they’re no cure.
Zinc may also help. In a 12-week placebo-controlled clinical trial of men who had suffered with non-bacterial prostatitis for at least a year, those who took high doses of zinc reported significant improvements. Flower pollen extract is another promising supplement, shown in several studies to reduce symptoms of prostatitis. And essential fatty acids such as those found in fish oil help suppress inflammation in this and other urological conditions as well.
The Big C
Prostate cancer is the prostate problem men fear the most. Cancer is scary, but you need to understand that the prognosis is usually good—even without treatment. Thanks to PSA screening, the lifetime risk of diagnosis is 1 in 6, but the likelihood of dying from prostate cancer is just 1 in 34. That’s why I don’t worry about it. Even if I had prostate cancer, statistically speaking, it’s unlikely to hurt me.
Treatment, on the other hand, is virtually guaranteed to harm. Prostatectomy and radiation therapy are notorious for causing erectile dysfunction and urinary problems, and androgen suppression and chemotherapy have side effects of their own. If a PSA test is suggestive of cancer, look before you leap. For run-of-the-mill, low-grade disease—the kind most men have—these interventions do far more harm than good. Active surveillance with periodic monitoring is typically the way to go.
Regardless of what path you choose, I suggest you also make some significant lifestyle changes. In a year-long study of men with prostate cancer who opted for active surveillance, diet changes, supplements (vitamins C and E, selenium, fish oil, and soy), exercise, and stress reduction resulted in marked declines in PSA and tumor activity. Other recommendations include modified citrus pectin, AAHC, DIM, curcumin, vitamin D, and IV vitamin C.
I’m not minimizing the scourge of prostate cancer, and aggressive and metastatic disease must be treated. But don’t forget that although autopsy reports reveal cancer in the prostates of half of men ages 70-80, most die with cancer, not of it.
Recommendations for Prostate Problems
Suggested supplements for prostate health and BPH include zinc 30-60 mg, selenium 200-400 mcg, saw palmetto 320 mg, pygeum 100 mg, stinging nettles 200-300 mg, beta-sitosterol 130-180 mg, lycopene 6-10 mg, and fish oil EPA/DHA 1,000-2,000 mg.
For prostatitis, the best-studied flower pollen extract is Cernilton/Graminex; take as directed.
For prostate cancer, consider adding modified citrus pectin 10-15 g, AAHC 4-6 capsules, curcumin (Meriva) 500 mg, DIM (EstroDIM) 1 capsule, and vitamin D 5,000 IU.
To order these supplements from the Whitaker Wellness Institute, call 800-810-6655.