BotanicalsHealthy AgingVitamin Mineral Research

Movember: Taking Focus On Prostate Nutrition

Because food is medicine for EVERY part of the body

It’s that time of year again. And no, we aren’t speaking of pumpkin-flavored everything, the far-too-early Christmas advertisements, or the need to scrape frost from the car windshield in the morning. It’s Movember – a movement designed to raise awareness of male health issues, and a month in which many men go without shaving their mustache not out of laziness, but for a cause.

One organ that men start to become more aware with increasing age is the prostate gland – the walnut-sized nugget through which urine passes, located in front of the rectum. Critical to reproductive health, the prostate often stays off men’s radar when they are younger, aside from the somewhat uncommon prostate infection. However, prostate gland enlargement — also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) — is a common and problematic condition as men get older.

Although altered urinary patterns are usually not seen when younger, changes in the cells typical of BPH have been shown in 20% of men between 41 and 50, and in 50% of men between 51 and 60 years of age.

It is perhaps not surprising that the first symptom of BPH is a change in urination patterns. This may be experienced as frequent urination and/or increased nighttime awakening to urinate.  There also may be difficulty urinating, an altered (weak or split) urinary stream, and a sense of not being able to empty the bladder completely.

Although altered urinary patterns are usually not seen when younger, changes in the cells typical of BPH have been shown in 20% of men between 41 and 50, and in 50% of men between 51 and 60 years of age. Although problems with urination may not happen right away, symptoms of obstruction occur in approximately 25% of men by age 55. So, what can you do now to prevent this?

Nutrition for the prostate

There are, thankfully, several nutrients and natural products that have evidence for modulating the age-related changes associated with BPH.

Zinc is a mineral critical to health and function of the whole body, including the prostate gland. The epithelial cells of the prostate gland accumulate more zinc than any other soft tissue in the male body. Zinc is necessary for the development of sperm, and supplementation has been shown to increase semen volume, sperm motility, and the percentage of normal sperm morphology.[1] Research suggests that zinc inhibits 5-alpha-reductase,[2],[3] the enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a stronger androgen that promotes hyperplasia. Several BPH medications target this same enzyme.

Zinc is necessary for the development of sperm, and supplementation has been shown to increase semen volume, sperm motility, and the percentage of normal sperm morphology.

Until 1936, pumpkin seeds were listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia, and have long been used as a food to support prostate health.[4] The oils found in pumpkin seeds, commonly known as pepitas, provide essential fatty acids as well as a substance known as beta-sitosterol, a plant fat that closely resembles cholesterol.[5] Human and animal studies show pumpkin seed oil may help maintain urinary function and prevent prostate hyperplasia in the presence of excessive testosterone stimulation.[6],[7]  Several double-blind clinical trials of beta-sitosterol have demonstrated it supports prostate health by acting as a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor.[8],[9]

Human and animal studies show pumpkin seed oil may help maintain urinary function and prevent prostate hyperplasia in the presence of excessive testosterone stimulation.

The fruit of saw palmetto commonly comes up in discussions of prostate health.[10] Saw palmetto extract has been shown to reduce binding and stimulation of the cells in the prostate gland by the stronger androgen, DHT.[11] It also modulates the effects of estrogen, a hormone found in men as well as women that may play a role in BPH.[12] Much like beta-sitosterol and zinc, saw palmetto is a potent 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor.[13],[14]

Stinging nettle root has been studied extensively for its detoxifying qualities and its role in prostate function.[15],[16] Nettles are commonly known for their “above the belt” use of aerial parts for the reduction of allergic symptoms, and their “below the belt” use of the roots to support prostate health.[17] Nettle root also serves as a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor and helps regulate the effects of steroid hormones on prostate cells.[18] Studies have shown benefits of stinging nettle root extract on symptoms of BPH in both animals and humans.[19],[20]

Nettles are commonly known for their “above the belt” use of aerial parts for the reduction of allergic symptoms, and their “below the belt” use of the roots to support prostate health.

Lycopene is a pigment that gives plants such as tomatoes, guava, watermelon, and pink grapefruit a red hue. As a carotenoid it has antioxidant effects and is known to support the health of the vascular system and the eyes.[21],[22] Recent studies also have shown that supplemental lycopene supports prostate health.[23]

Hormonal balance – not just a women’s issue!

Although many men question if they have adequate levels of testosterone, another hormone that is equally important to consider is estrogen. Estrogen excess can lead to symptoms of testosterone insufficiency, simply because the balance of these two potent hormones is off. Estrogens directly and indirectly affect the growth and differentiation of prostate cells, and the development of BPH is associated with an increased ratio of estrogen to androgen levels.[24]

Environmental chemicals known as xenoestrogens, found in organochlorine pesticides, plastics and other industrial products, can significantly disrupt estrogen metabolism. These “endocrine disruptors” alter estradiol hydroxylation, resulting in a higher ratio of the genotoxic 16α-hydroxyestrone (16α-OHE1) to the safer and weaker estrogenic 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OHE1). 16α-OHE1 is associated with abnormal prostate growth. In addition to these xenoestrogens, there are many phytoestrogens (plant-sourced estrogens) which we can be exposed to with the foods and beverages we chose to eat. Two well-known and highly-consumed substances, soy (found in tofu and many other foods) and hops (found in beer), have an estrogenic effect in the body as well.

Diindolylmethane (DIM) is a plant-derived compound with health-promoting properties, found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. DIM has been shown to help promote more efficient metabolism of estrogen and an optimal ratio of estrogen metabolites (2-OHE1 /16α-OHE) for both male and female health.[25],[26],[27] Although DIM may offer a variety of health benefits, unless stabilized with phospholipids it has poor absorption and relatively rapid clearance.

So, rather than taking a passive stance and just watching aging happen, consider that in addition to exercise and healthy diet, you can use some of these supportive nutrients not only in Movember but throughout the year. That’s what Movember is really about – taking an active rather than a passive role in the issues associated with male health and well-being. And for men, some considerations to include in the diet or as supplements in Movember, and on an ongoing basis, include zinc, pumpkin seed oil, saw palmetto, stinging nettle, lycopene, and diindolylmethane (DIM) in its bioavailable form.

 

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