Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
Benign prostatic hyperplasia, also known as benign prostatic hypertrophy, or simply BPH, is a commonly-occurring condition among men 45 years and older. By age 45, approximately 50 percent of all males in the United States have some degree of BPH. It is characterized by an enlarged and/or inflamed prostate gland that makes normal urination difficult. The prostate gland, which is located at the base of the bladder and surrounds the urethra, produces substances that protect and enhance the functions of sperm cells and also helps to protect the entire genitourinary system against infection and disease.
By age seventy, 80% of all men in the U.S. experience BPH. As a result, most conventional physicians consider it to be a natural consequence of aging, a view that is disputed by practitioners of natural medicine.
The most common early signs of BPH are an increased need to urinate, especially at night. As the condition progresses, being able to urinate can become increasingly difficult, both in terms of beginning and stopping. Other symptoms include dribbling, burning sensations while urinating, and having the sensation that the bladder isn't completely emptied despite recent urination. In some cases, infections of the bladder, kidneys, or prostate (prostatitis) can also occur, as can urinary incontinence, which is estimated to affect as many as 3% of all men who suffer from BPH. In certain cases, BPH can be so severe that complete urination becomes impossible, posing the risk of kidney failure.
Caution: If you experience symptoms of BPH along with any of the following symptoms—bone pain, blood in the urine, and/or inexplicable weight loss—seek prompt medical attention.
BPH is caused by the abnormal overgrowth or swelling of prostate tissue. As this occurs, eventually it begins to block the opening of the bladder, known as the urethra. One of the primary causes of prostate tissue overgrowth is changes in hormone levels, specifically a reduction in testosterone and an increase in dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a more active form of testosterone that is associated with increased risk of both BPH and prostate cancer. Because of this, many holistic physicians regard BPH as prostate cancer that is waiting to happen.
The increase in DHT is due to a hormone known as prolactin that is produced by the pituitary gland. As prolactin is secreted, it triggers the activity of the enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT. Chronically excessive production of prolactin therefore, can play a significant role in the onset and progression of BPH. Prolactin production is known to increase during times of emotional stress and alcohol production, particularly beer. Chronic constipation can also cause or contribute to BPH and exacerbate its symptoms.
Other factors that can cause or worsen BPH include poor diet, nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, and congestion in the lymphatic system, especially in the lymph nodes that surround the prostate gland.
Prevention is the best approach for dealing with BPH, as well as for all other male health conditions associated with the prostate and male sex organs. This includes having a regular (yearly) physical examination with both a digital rectal exam and, for men over 40, a blood test to determine your PSA (prostate-specific antigen) score, which screens for signs of prostate enlargement. (Note: The PSA test is also commonly used to screen for prostate cancer, but in recent years has been found to be ineffective for this purpose, to the point where even its developer no longer recommends that it be used as a marker for prostate cancer.) Other useful diagnostic tests you can consider, depending on your symptoms, include urinalysis, ultrasound, and other blood tests that can help determine you immune status. Hormone testing should also be considered for all men over 40 years old.
Other preventive measures include eating a healthy diet, proper nutritional supplementation, and regular (at least three times per week) exercise. In addition, practice safe sex, using a condom to avoid infection.