Its job is to produce some of the fluid that nourishes and protects sperm cells in semen.
Every male should be mindful of the prostate, because every male has one. And after age 50 or so, it can be the source of trouble that no man would want. The prostate tends to enlarge as a man ages, with ills range from an overly enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia in medical terms) to inflammation of the gland (prostatitis) to prostate cancer, which can affect as many as 230,000 men each year.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men. It’s the second leading cause of cancer death after lung cancer in men.
So it makes good sense for every man to do what he can in youth to avoid problems with the prostate later on in life. There’s no guarantee, but there are steps that men can take in their 20s, 30s and 40s to up the chances for a healthier 50s and beyond.
According to Andrew Colhoun MD, of Virginia Urology in Richmond, the main steps to take in prostate care is to take care of the packaging around it. Good general health practices, Dr. Colhoun says, can pay dividends in prostate health.
Certain risk factors, he says, can’t be avoided. Those include your age, your family history, your race (a higher incidence of cancer among African Americans, especially people of Caribbean extraction and Caucasians higher than Hispanics, for example) and even where you live.
Research suggests that men living above the 40th degree of latitude have a higher chance of a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Virginia is below 40 degrees latitude.
Those factors aside, here are some things you can do to keep yourself, and your prostate, healthy:
- Cultivate a diet low in saturated fats and high in fruits and vegetables. Limit your intake of animal fats, including dairy products; eat lots of fish, fruits (especially watermelon) vegetables (especially cooked tomatoes, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, leafy green vegetables and others). Green tea also helps. “We see a lower incidence of prostate cancer in Asian men and vegetarian men,” Dr. Colhoun notes, “and altering your diet to consume more fruits and vegetables, less red meats and cured meats and less animal fats may play a role in decreasing the risk of developing prostate cancer.”
Watermelon is a good source of lycopene, an antioxidant linked with treatment and prevention of cancer.
- Thirty minutes of exercise four to five times a week is a baseline.
There are no studies that suggest clear benefit to the prostate of vitamins and herbal supplements, and Dr. Colhoun cautions that they are “tricky subjects” pertaining to prostate cancer. He notes that very high intake of calcium — significantly above daily recommendations — has been associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer, as well as too much or too little Vitamin D.
Pay attention to your urine stream, Dr. Calhoun says. If you have trouble urinating, it may be a sign of trouble. Also, stay hydrated; he recommends drinking two liters (slightly over 2 quarts) of water a day.
The American Urological Association recommends screening for prostate cancer between the ages of 55 and 70 for healthy men, with the ages adjusted for at-risk men, healthier older men, etc. The screening is quick, simple and painless, involving a rectal exam and a blood test called the PSA. And always be sure to discuss your individual needs with your physician.
Expert Contributor: Andrew Colhoun, MD, of Virginia Urology in Richmond.