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How to Improve Prostate Health

The prostate is a small gland found in men, near their bladders. Many men experience prostate problems, and as they get older it is important to watch for signs of prostate cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, one in every seven men is diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime and it is the second leading cause of cancer death among men in the United States. In 2015, 27,540 deaths are projected to occur due to prostate cancer.[1] However, there are a number of preventive measures that a man can take to reduce his risk of developing prostate cancer, including important dietary and lifestyle changes and becoming aware of his family history.

Eat whole grains and more fruits and vegetables. Choose whole-grain bread and pasta over white bread and pasta. Make sure to get at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every single day. Include produce high in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, such as red peppers and tomatoes. Lycopene is what makes fruit and vegetables red, and has been proven as a cancer-fighting ingredient. In general, the deeper and brighter the color of your produce, the better.[2]

  • There are currently no guidelines as the amount of lycopene you should try to get each day. However, research indicates that for lycopene to make any difference, you would need to eat lycopene-foods all day to get the amounts needed.[3]
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale are also good defenses against the development of cancer. Some controlled studies have found a link between increased ingestion of cruciferous vegetables and reduced risk of prostate cancer, although the evidence is merely associative at this point.[4]

Be more selective in your consumption of protein. Cut back on how much red meat you eat, including beef, pork, lamb and goat. It’s also a good idea to limit your consumption of processed meats, like sandwich meat and hot dogs.[5]

  • Instead of red meat, eat fish with high levels of omega-3 acids, including salmon and tuna. These foods will help your prostate as well as your heart and immune system. The research about the relationship between dietary fish intake and prostate cancer prevention is largely based on correlative data and namely, the fact that the Japanese have so few cases of prostate cancer and eat large amounts of fish. Whether there is a causal relationship is still being debated.[6]
  • Beans skinless poultry, and eggs are also healthy options for protein.

Increase the amount of soy in your diet. The properties of soy, which is found in many vegetarian dishes, fight cancer. Sources of soy include tofu, soy nuts, soy flour and soy powders. Swapping cow’s milk for soy milk in your cereal or coffee is one way to get more soy into your diet.[7]

  • Note that recent research has found soy beans and some other specific products, such as tofu, to be preventive in prostate cancer. However, this cannot be extrapolated to all soy products, including milk. There are also no current anecdotal or evidence-based guidelines on the amount of soy you should try to incorporate into your diet.[8]

Keep good fats and get rid of bad fats. Limit your consumption of saturated fats from animal and dairy products and instead switch to healthy fats, like olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Animal products high in fat, such as meat, butter, and lard, have been associated with an increase risk of prostate cancer.[9][10]

  • Avoid fast food and most processed foods. These often contain partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats), which are extremely unhealthy.

Limit your alcohol, caffeine, and sugar intake. Though you don’t need to entirely cut out caffeine from your diet, try to limit how much you ingest. For example, limit yourself to one to two four ounce cups of coffee per day. The same goes for alcohol; try to view it as a treat and stick to a couple of small glasses a week.[11]

  • Avoid sugary (sometimes also caffeinated) drinks like sodas and fruit juices. These have nearly zero nutritional benefit.

Limit your salt intake. The best way to cut back on how much sodium you consume is to eat fresh produce, dairy, and meats and avoid packaged, canned, and frozen foods. Salt is often used as a preservative and is thus present in large amounts in pre-packaged foods.[12]

  • When shopping, stick to the outer perimeter of the grocery store as much as possible. This is where most of the fresh food is located, while cartons, cans, and other packages tend to be isolated in the center aisles.
  • Take the time to read and compare food labels. Most food labels are now required to state how much sodium is in a product and what percentage it makes up of your daily recommended intake of sodium.
  • The American Heart Association recommends that Americans consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.[13]

Take supplements. Cancer research has emphasized the importance of getting your nutrients from food instead of vitamin supplements whenever possible.[14] However, there may be cases where a supplement is a better option for you. Be sure to discuss any supplements you are taking or thinking about taking with your physician.

  • Take zinc supplements. Most men do not get enough zinc in their diets, and supplements can help keep your prostate healthy. Research has demonstrated that zinc deficiencies can lead to enlarged prostates and that zinc plays a role in the progression of prostate cells to malignancy. You can take 50 to 100 (or even up to 200) milligrams of zinc per day in tablet form to reduce an enlarged prostate.[15]
  • Try taking saw palmetto berry, made from the berries of the Saw Palmetto plant. This supplement has received mixed reviews from users and the medical field, so talk to your doctor before you try it. Some research has suggested that it may assist in the cytotoxicity (cell death) of human prostate cancer cells.[16]
  • Note that some research has suggested that taking certain supplements, such as vitamin E, may even increase your risk of prostate cancer. Other studies has demonstrated that taking many (i.e., more than 7) supplements, even those marked for prostate cancer, may increase the risk of developing advanced prostate cancer.[17]

Don’t smoke. Although the relationship of prostate cancer and smoking has been long debated, tobacco use is believed to cause oxidative damage via free radicals to the body’s cells, thus making the link between cancer and smoking plausible. In a meta-analysis of 24 studies, researchers found that cigarette smoking was in fact a risk for prostate cancer.[18][19]

Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, get yourself on a diet and exercise plan that will get you into a healthy range. Whether someone is overweight or obese is determined by using the body mass index (BMI), an indicator of body fatness. BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms (kg) divided by the square of the person’s height in meters (m). A BMI of 25-29.9 is considered overweight, while a BMI greater than 30 is considered obese.[20]

  • Reduce the number of calories you intake and increase the amount of exercise you do. This is the secret to weight loss.[21]
  • Watch portion sizes and make a concerted effort to eat slowly, savor and chew your food and stop eating when you are full. Remember that you just need to feel satiated, not stuffed to the brim.[22]

Exercise regularly. Regular activity is not only good for reducing your risk of certain types of cancers, but also other potential health problems, including depression, heart disease and stroke. Though a causal relationship between exercise to prostate health remains unconfirmed, the studies that have been conducted to date suggest that exercise is beneficial in keeping your prostate healthy. [23][24]

  • You should aim for 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise several days a week. However, even low to moderate exercising, like brisk walking, is beneficial for prostate health. If you’re new to exercising, start slowly by walking to work, using the stairs instead of the elevator and going on nightly walks. Build up to more intense workouts involving aerobic exercise, like cycling, swimming, or running.[25]

Perform Kegel exercises. Kegel exercises are performed by contracting the muscles of your pelvic floor (as if you were attempting to stop the flow of urine), holding them for a brief period, and then releasing them. Doing these exercises regularly will help strengthen and tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor. You can do Kegel exercises anywhere because they don’t require any special equipment!

  • Tighten the muscles around your scrotum and anus for a few seconds, then release. Do this exercise in 10 repetitions 3-4 times a day to improve your prostate health. Try to build up to 10-second holds.
  • You can also do Kegel exercises by lying on your back with your pelvis in the air and clenching your buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds, then release. Do this for five minute intervals three times a day.

Ejaculate often. Although for a long time, researchers believed that frequent ejaculation during sex, masturbation, or even a dream increased men’s risk of developing prostate cancer, newer research is suggesting in fact, that frequent ejaculation may actually protect the prostate. Researchers suggest that ejaculation may help to flush out carcinogens in the prostate glands as well as help fluids in the prostate turn over more quickly to reduce cancer risk. In addition, regular ejaculation may also help to reduce psychological tension, which can slow the growth of cancer cells.[26]

  • That said, this research is still in its early stages and researchers have said that it’s too soon to yet make a formal recommendation on men’s sexual habits. It’s unclear, for example, how often a man should ejaculate to see these benefits. These researchers do suspect, however, that ejaculation frequency accompanies other indicators of a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet and regular exercise.[27]

Be aware of your family history. Having immediate male family members (such as a father or brother) with prostate cancer significantly increase your risk of developing it yourself. In fact, the risk is more than doubled! It’s essential that you notify your doctor of any family history of prostate cancer so you can work together to build a comprehensive preventive program.[28]

  • Note that the risk is high for men with a brother diagnosed with prostate cancer than a father. In addition, the risk is increased for those men who have multiple relatives with prostate cancer, especially if those relatives were diagnosed at a young age (e.g., before 40).[29]

Know the symptoms of a potential prostate problem. These include erectile dysfunction, blood in your urine, pain when you urinate or have sex, pain in the hips or low back, or always feeling like you need to urinate.[30]

  • However, prostate cancer is often asymptomatic, at least until it has spread to affect other parts of the body, such as the bones. Patients diagnosed with prostate cancer rarely report the above symptoms of incontinence, blood in the urine, impotence, etc.

See your doctor regularly. The American Cancer Society recommends getting screened for prostate cancer beginning at age 50 (or age 45 if you have any risk factors for prostate cancer). Screening involves the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. PSA is a substance made by both the normal and cancer the cells in your prostate that is found in a small amount in the blood. Most men have PSA levels of 4 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) of blood, and the higher the PSA leve, the higher the chance of cancer. The gap between screenings depends on the results of this test. Men who have a PSA of less than 2.5 ng/mL need retesting every 2 years, whereas men with higher PSA levels should be tested annually.[31]

  • A digital rectal exam (DRE) may also be included in the screening. In this exam, a clinician will feel for a nodule on the back side of the prostate.[32]
  • Neither the PSA nor the DRE is conclusive. You will likely need a biopsy to diagnose prostate cancer.[33]
  • At present, the American Cancer Society recommends that men should make an informed decision about prostate screening after detailed discussion with their primary care physicians. Screening can help locate cancers early, but there is no conclusive research as to whether screening actually saves lives. That said, catching the cancer earlier increases the chance that it can be treated successfully.[34]