How To Make Your Prostate Function Better As You Age

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How to improve prostate function with age
Prostate function tends to deteriorate as men reach age 40 and beyond. With each intervening decade that passes, the functionality of the prostate can be increasingly compromised, and with this increasing dysfunction, the risk for increased enlarged prostates and prostate cancer jump higher and higher.

According to Healthline, men under age 40 have a 1-in-10,000 risk of developing prostate cancer. The 40-to-59-year-old group sees a 1-in-38 risk, and the 60-plus crowd jumps up to a 1-in-14 risk.

With stats like these, you may be wondering how to best support your prostate as you age. The good news is, there's quite a bit you can do to help that little gland, from supplements to simple dietary additions to sticking to an exercise routine.

Whether you're a prostate owner or you have a loved one with one (pretty sure that covers all of us!), this article will include everything you need to know to ensure the best prostate function as the years go by.

Supplements to Support Prostate Function

The majority of supplements that are marketed to support the prostate will work by either improving urinary symptoms, reducing the size of the prostate lining, or halting further growth of the prostate gland.

When the prostate gland is enlarged, like in cases of BPH, the increase in size leads to extra pressure on the urethra and an inability to fully empty the bladder. (Quick anatomy lesson: the bladder is right above the prostate). While a normal prostate gland starts out being the size of a walnut, it can grow to become lemon-sized throughout the aging process, according to Harvard Medical School.

This is why men with enlarged prostates, whether from Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), or from cancer, have the annoying symptom of frequently feeling like they need to run to the bathroom, but are unable to fully empty the bladder when they get there. Other symptoms include poor urine flow, post-urination dripping, and a lot of nighttime bathroom runs.

Although an enlarged prostate isn't a risk factor for prostate cancer, it sure can lead to a reduction in quality of life with those uncomfortable urinary symptoms. Let's take a look into which supplements are worthwhile for supporting prostate function.

Supplements can benefit overall prostate function

Saw Palmetto

This plant-based compound is extracted from the berries of the saw palmetto tree, also known as the American dwarf palm, and can help overall prostate function by acting as a diuretic. This increases urine flow, which would then help men to fully empty the bladder when they urinate.

Saw palmetto can act as a natural 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor (5-ARI), which prevents testosterone from being converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and is a common mechanism of prescription medications for BPH. The androgen hormone DHT is a weaker version of testosterone and plays a role in the enlargement of the prostate gland, thus a reduction in DHT could result in a prostate not growing larger [1] .

Saw palmetto's anti-inflammatory actions may also help overall prostate function. While the mechanisms seem plausible, results from clinical trials see mixed results with saw palmetto extract versus a placebo [2,3] . However, one randomized controlled trial did find that saw palmetto worked the same as tamsulosin, a prescription medication for BPH, in terms of reducing urinary symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate [4] .

Zinc

The normal prostate gland has extra-high levels of zinc accumulation, which is used to create the citrates found in prostatic fluid. A major role of zinc is to regulate the balance between testosterone and DHT, according to Harvard. A reduction in zinc levels is considered a hallmark of prostate cancer, thus it seems reasonable that zinc supplementation would benefit the prostate. However, too much zinc is also not good for the prostate; we want a Goldilocks-like situation with zinc, especially if it's coming from supplements rather than food sources.

One large study found that men who supplemented with 100 mg zinc or more for ten years had a 2.37 times increased relative risk of developing prostate cancer compared to those who didn't supplement with zinc [5] . Currently, the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for zinc is set at 11 mg for men, suggesting a supplement of 100 mg is excessive.

Although zinc shows cytotoxic capabilities in mouse models and in vitro studies, some researchers believe that the ability of the individual to utilize supplemental zinc properly depends on their zinc transporter and uptake functioning [6] . If you want to get the benefits of zinc, it may be beneficial to get your daily dose from food sources, like shellfish, legumes, red meat, and nuts.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D supplements have been found to decrease the prostate volume of BPH patients, as well as provide anti-cancer effects [7,8] . One 23-year-long study found that prostate cancer patients with higher serum vitamin D levels prior to diagnosis were less likely to die from the disease [9] . However, another study found that both very low and very high levels of vitamin D contributed to prostate cancer development. The lowest risk came with vitamin D levels in the 45-70 nmol/L range [10] . Once again, we see that more is not always better, especially when it comes to nutrient supplementation.

Vitamin D supplements may help prevent prostate cancer

Pomegranate Extract

The juices and extracts of the pomegranate fruit have been extensively studied for various health conditions. One clinical trial in men with rising PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels found that pomegranate extract at doses of both 1 and 3 grams daily led to a significant lengthening of PSA doubling time, which can be used as a predictor of developing prostate cancer [11] .

A double-blind, randomized controlled trial in 2014 found that men who took a food supplement capsule for six months containing pomegranate, turmeric, broccoli and green tea saw a median increase in PSA level of 14.7%, which was significantly lower than the 78.5% PSA increase in the placebo group. However, this study did not single out pomegranate, so it's difficult to know which compound in the multi-compound supplement was most responsible for these promising results [12] .

Lycopene

Lycopene, a red-pigmented carotenoid and antioxidant, has been often linked to men's prostate health. While tomatoes are the most well-known high-lycopene food, it is also found in guava, watermelon, grapefruit, red bell peppers, and papaya. A meta-analysis of 26 studies found mixed results between lycopene and prostate function; however, there was a trend linking higher lycopene intake to a reduced prostate cancer risk [13] .

A randomized controlled trial of older men with BPH found that 15 mg of lycopene supplementation daily for six months led to a significant reduction in PSA levels as well as no further prostate enlargement, whereas the control group did see the progression of enlarging prostates [14] .

Lycopene, found in tomatoes, is an antioxidant that improves prostate function.

Fish Oil

Fish oil, or fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids, have documented many anti-inflammatory effects, which may be beneficial for preventing prostate cancer and improving overall prostate health. A traditional Western diet tends to be comprised of a higher ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats compared to our ancestors, which may be a cause of our society's increasingly poor health in recent decades.

In the lab, omega-3 fatty acids work well to reduce disease by blocking pro-inflammatory signaling pathways, suppressing cancer cell growth, and promoting anti-inflammatory pathways [15] . In the real world, certain populations who eat high amounts of omega-3's via fatty fish, including the Japanese and the Alaskan and Greenland Inuits, consistently see lower rates of prostate cancer [16,17] . However, studies and trials using fish oil supplements have seen mixed results, perhaps meaning that eating the fish itself is more beneficial than taking the supplemental oil [18] .

Stinging Nettle

While you may not want to come in physical contact with the stinging nettle plant, whose painful spines live up to its name, the extracted and powdered form of it may help benefit the prostate. Some research has shown that stinging nettle can help to reduce the uncomfortable symptoms associated with BPH, including incomplete bladder emptying and reduced urinary flow, according to Penn State. A randomized controlled trial of patients in the early stages of BPH found that a supplement combining stinging nettle with saw palmetto led to similar results as treating with finasteride, a common BPH medication [19] . Another trial found that stinging nettle supplementation was linked to improved urinary flow and a small decrease in prostate size compared to those taking a placebo [20] .

Too much of a good thing?

Some supplements are good, but taking too much of certain vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants can backfire and result in worse health. In addition to the ones already discussed, studies have shown that excessive supplementation of vitamin E, calcium, and selenium have all been linked to an increased risk of developing prostate cancer [21-23] .

Foods to Support Prostate Function  

While tomatoes are probably the most well-known food to support prostate health due to their lycopene content, there are other foods that should get attention for their prostate-helping benefits. Recently studied foods that support prostate function include mushrooms, cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower), oily fish (like salmon and sardines), coffee, and green tea [24-26] . There are some foods and drinks you may want to limit to best support your prostate function, including excessive red meat, dairy, and alcohol [25, 27] .

Lifestyle Factors

In addition to the foods we eat and the supplements we take, our lifestyle factors also play a role in prostate health. Obesity, or having a BMI of 30 or more, is a major risk factor for all cancers, including prostate, while physical activity has been linked to a reduction in prostate cancer [25, 28] . Not only does a regular exercise routine help to prevent prostate cancer, but men who exercise after a cancer diagnosis tend to have better survival rates [29] . Time to lace up those running shoes and get your heart pumping!

Regular physical activity can reduce prostate cancer risk

If you already have prostate cancer, new and minimally invasive treatment options are becoming more likely, such as this MRI-guided ultrasound. In a recent year-long study, 80% of the 115 men in the trial saw clinically significant destruction of their cancer. That's right - the ultrasound eliminated all signs of prostate cancer in 80% of the men in a 51-minute outpatient procedure.

Your Takeaways

  • If you're a man over the age of 40, it's likely that your prostate is enlarging each year you grow older; luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent this from developing further.
  • An enlarged prostate, also known as Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), is not linked to prostate cancer but is an uncomfortable combination of urinary-related symptoms.
  • Supplements that may help reduce the risk of BPH or prostate cancer include saw palmetto, moderate amounts of vitamin D, pomegranate extract, lycopene, and stinging nettle.
  • A healthy diet, including fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish, combined with a physical activity routine have been linked to improved prostate function.
Show references
  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4002402/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16467543-saw-palmetto-for-benign-prostatic-hyperplasia/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21954478-effect-of-increasing-doses-of-saw-palmetto-extract-on-lower-urinary-tract-symptoms-a-randomized-trial/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12074791-comparison-of-a-phytotherapeutic-agent-permixon-with-an-alpha-blocker-tamsulosin-in-the-treatment-of-benign-prostatic-hyperplasia-a-1-year-randomized-international-study/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12837837-zinc-supplement-use-and-risk-of-prostate-cancer/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27132038-a-comprehensive-review-of-the-role-of-zinc-in-normal-prostate-function-and-metabolism-and-its-implications-in-prostate-cancer/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23930605-vitamin-d-and-benign-prostatic-hyperplasia-a-review/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5952478/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26809275-circulating-25-hydroxyvitamin-d-and-prostate-cancer-survival/?from_term=%22vitamin+d%22+and+prostate&from_filter=simsearch2.ffrft&from_filter=pubt.randomizedcontrolledtrial&from_filter=years.2001-2019&from_size=10&from_pos=2
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4119495/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3549301/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4020278/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4616444/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18156403-lycopene-inhibits-disease-progression-in-patients-with-benign-prostate-hyperplasia/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3676993/
  16. https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(13)01000-8/fulltext
  17. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ijc.23367
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5736071/
  19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10971268-combined-sabal-and-urtica-extract-compared-with-finasteride-in-men-with-benign-prostatic-hyperplasia-analysis-of-prostate-volume-and-therapeutic-outcome/?from_single_result=stinging+nettle+and+prostate
  20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16635963-urtica-dioica-for-treatment-of-benign-prostatic-hyperplasia-a-prospective-randomized-double-blind-placebo-controlled-crossover-study/
  21. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21990298-vitamin-e-and-the-risk-of-prostate-cancer-the-selenium-and-vitamin-e-cancer-prevention-trial-select/
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6103569/
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4296194/
  24. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31486077-mushroom-consumption-and-incident-risk-of-prostate-cancer-in-japan-a-pooled-analysis-of-the-miyagi-cohort-study-and-the-ohsaki-cohort-study/
  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5472048/
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4286914/
  27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4073189/
  28. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31802111-appraising-causal-relationships-of-dietary-nutritional-and-physical-activity-exposures-with-overall-and-aggressive-prostate-cancer-two-sample-mendelian-randomization-study-based-on-79-148-prostate-cancer-cases-and-61-106-controls/?from_single_result=31802111
  29. https://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/24/1/57
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