Nutritional help for an enlarged prostate

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Q: My father was urinating more than usual, and concerned, he went to see a doctor. He was told that his prostate is enlarged, and was diagnosed with benign prostatic hyperplasia. Can a change of diet help?

A: Let us start with a little science. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland found underneath the bladder. It encircles the urethra (the urine duct). Its job is to make the fluid that passes into the seminal duct to help sperm swim along.

When the prostate swells, urinating becomes difficult. This is actually very common in older men, and can be caused either by inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis) or more commonly, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), like your father has.

Since the only symptom that most men experience is difficulty peeing, many of them ignore this discomfort. Currently, around one in 10 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, and according to World Cancer Research Fund estimates, this will increase to one in four by 2018. Getting an early diagnosis is therefore important.

If the results turn positive, does that mean you have to take medication for the rest of your life? The short answer is no. The herb, saw palmetto, is very effective in controlling prostate symptoms.

In fact, a review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for BPH, saw palmetto was just as effective as the most commonly used drug for this condition.

The normal recommended dose is 160mg, twice a day. Since it is the fatty acids in this herb that seem to be most biologically active, choose a supplement that is standardised to 45 percent fatty acids.

Your prostate, like every other gland in the body, also has nutritional needs. The most important nutrients in this respect are the healthy “essential” fats and zinc.

Essential are found in raw nuts and seeds, oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring and extra virgin olive oil. Eating an abundance of these foods is likely to help maintain the health of the prostate gland, and may reduce the risk of enlargement. Essential fat consumption may also help protect against prostate cancer.

A study published in The Lancet followed more than 6,000 55-year-old Swedish men for up to 30 years. It found that eating fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, could reduce the risk of prostate cancer by a third.

The best way to guarantee your intake of these powerful anti-inflammatory agents is to choose a fish oils supplement that contains 1,000mg of EPA a day.

Supplementation of zinc also seems to help reduce prostatic enlargement. Zinc is found in fish, seafood (especially oysters) and seeds. Alternatively, get your father to take 30-60mg of zinc a day, but since zinc can deplete copper levels, make sure he takes 1mg of copper for each 15 mg of zinc he has.