What is the prostate and where is it located?
The prostate is a small but important organ in the male reproductive system. It’s about the size of a walnut and produces a thick, milky-white fluid that makes up part of semen. The prostate sits directly below the bladder.
It also partly wraps around the urethra – the tube urine passes through on its way out of the bladder and body. The rectum is just behind the prostate, making it possible to feel the gland from the rectum using the finger.
What does the prostate do?
The prostate is partly muscular and partly glandular. In the glands, the prostate produces a fluid that, together with sperm cells from the testicles and fluids from other glands, makes up semen. The muscles of the prostate ensure that the semen is forcefully pressed into the urethra and then expelled outwards during ejaculation.
What is prostatic fluid?
Prostatic fluid is a viscous, milky-white fluid which accounts for roughly one third of semen, the liquid ejaculated during sexual activity. The main role of the prostate is to make this fluid that protects and feeds sperm.
The fluid contains prostate-specific antigen (PSA). This enzyme aids in the success of sperm by liquefying semen that has thickened after ejaculation. This thinning action allows sperm to swim more freely.
PSA is also a good marker for prostate volume, which may indicate problems with the prostate. PSA level also tends to rise in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia.
What is Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia?
Benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, is an enlargement of the prostate that is not due to a malignant growth. It’s a common problem and risk increases with age. For example, in Australia men aged 45 have roughly 1 in 17 chance of developing BPH, while men aged 75 years and over have a 1 in 4 chance.
Even though the growth is benign, BPH can still cause problems. As the prostate gets bigger, it can press on the urethra and slow or even prevent the flow of urine, in a similar way to bending a hose stops the flow of water.
Variable symptoms of BPH may include:
- Increased urine frequency.
- Urinary urgency.
- Urinary hesitancy.
- Decreased or intermittent force of stream.
- Incomplete voiding.
- Urinary dribbling.
The cause of BPH is unknown, but popular scientific theories revolve around hormonal changes (notably testosterone, oestrogen and dihydrotestosterone) and changes to prostate cells (Lepor 2005).
Why does the prostate change with age?
To function properly, the prostate requires adequate amounts of certain hormones, including testosterone, produced by the testicles, as well as others produced by the pituitary and adrenal glands. Hormone levels fluctuate with age, which is why theories about the cause of BPH centre on hormones.
One theory focuses on dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a male hormone that plays a role in prostate development and growth. Some research has indicated that even with a drop in blood testosterone levels, older men continue to produce and accumulate high levels of DHT in the prostate. This accumulation of DHT may encourage prostate cells to continue to grow. Scientists have noted that men who do not produce DHT do not develop benign prostatic hyperplasia (Carson & Rittmaster 2003).
How do you keep your prostate healthy?
- Maintain a healthy weight and BMI.
- Exercise frequently to modulate hormones, maintain weight and reduce activity of the sympathetic nervous system, easing the severity of urinary symptoms.
- Reduce stress. Science shows there may be a connection between stress levels and prostate health (McVary et al 2005).
- Try urinating in the sitting position. This reduces the amount of residual volume in the bladder, increases the urinary flow rate and decreases the voiding time.
- New studies indicate that sexual activity plays a role in prostate health. Frequent ejaculation (alone or with a partner) promotes prostate health (Giles et al 2003).
- Exercising pelvic floor muscles to control urination.
- Increase food sources of zinc, essential fatty acids, selenium and lycopene – all crucial for male reproductive health. Try pumpkin seeds, tomatoes and salmon!
- Consider herbal supplementation with Saw Palmetto, Epilobium, Pumpkin seed or Nettle Root – all traditionally used and scientifically studied for prostate health (Azimi et al 2012) (Steenkamp et al 2006).
- Maintain a healthy intake of garlic and onions.
- Avoid stimulating drinks like coffee, tea and alcohol.
- Maintain healthy cholesterol levels
- Conduct regular check-ups with your doctor to maintain prostate health and quickly identify any changes that take place.