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General Health Information
The prostate is a male gland that is situated below the bladder and surrounds the urethra like a doughnut. It secretes a milky fluid that lubricates the urethra to prevent infections, and increases sperm motility during ejaculation for better fertilization. Inflammation of the prostate gland is known as prostatitis, and can occur at any age. This inflammation can be caused by bacteria from other parts of the body invading the prostate. This is a different condition than an enlarged prostate. Enlargement of the prostate is an extremely common condition in men, and is known as benign (nonmalignant) prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Enlargement of the prostate can pinch off the flow of urine causing increased urinary frequency, frequent nighttime urination, and reduced flow of urination. Suffering from BPH does not mean that you have prostate cancer, although the symptoms of prostate cancer can be the same as with BPH. A test for a specific protein level, called a PSA test (prostate-specific antigen), should be performed to rule out cancer.
Most men experience BPH to some degree as they age, because it is caused by the hormonal changes associated with aging. As men age, testosterone levels decrease and estrogen levels increase. There is also an increase in activity of the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase, which converts testosterone to the more potent dihydrotestosterone (DHT). These elevated estrogen levels may inhibit the elimination of excess DHT from the prostate gland. DHT can cause an overproduction of prostate cells resulting in enlargement of the prostate. In addition to the natural processes of aging, certain lifestyle factors also come into play with BPH. Alcohol (especially beer), stress, and toxic contaminants can increase the production of DHT. Avoidance of these precipitating factors may help to reduce the onset and symptoms of BPH.
There are nutritional components to BPH. Zinc, for example, may inhibit the activity of 5-alpha-reductase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. The herbs saw palmetto and nettle also inhibit 5-alpha-reductase. Another important herb is pygeum with its diuretic and anti-inflammatory activities that may help to reduce nighttime urinary frequency. It is also good to limit caffeine intake because it increases the frequency and urgency to urinate. These nutritional and herbal supplements as part of a healthy lifestyle make for good prostate health.
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