Writing about health and wellness is a lot like writing about politics. Everyone falls into one camp or another and very few people agree with the facts, findings and opinions expressed by everyone else.
That leads me to this week's column which is focused on men's health. Specifically on prostate health. The prostate is a small gland, a little smaller than a golf ball, and is located just under the bladder and surrounds the urethra. Because of it's location and the fact that major nerve bundles run through it, they allow a man to achieve an erection and control continence, making it an essential gland. One interesting point around the prostate is it develops rapidly during puberty then doesn't change again until after 40 then it starts growing again.
The problematic thing with prostate health is to know what to do if you believe you have a health concern with your prostate. Honestly, most men do not give their prostate much thought or understand the complexities around all the various plumbing and nerve bundles that run through the prostate.
For men over fifty, the need for a PSA or Prostate Specific Antigen blood tests should be a standard request when they have a yearly physical exam. Most healthcare providers even insist on including a PSA test at the same time they check your cholesterol levels. It is a simple blood test and usually indicates numbers that show good prostate health.
One of the big issues with a PSA test is to understand the numbers. Depending on your primary care provider and their depth and understanding of prostate health, you can easily be given misdirection on your numbers. Most primary health providers will refer you to a Urologist if they believe your numbers are abnormal. The problem is defining what is abnormal.
Understanding what an abnormal number is and what to do about it can be very controversial, so let's break it down based on averages. Most healthcare providers will tell you a PSA level between one and three is considered normal. A PSA level of four to six or higher can be a red flag to seek-out a Urologist who may want to do a biopsy of your prostate. Now before you panic regarding a higher than average PSA level, you need to know a few things.
First of all, research and years of studies have found that as you get older, your prostate can be affected by many factors. Many of which can give you higher than usual PSA levels for a short time or chronically. A chronically high PSA number does not mean without a doubt you have prostate cancer. Jumping to that conclusion and the idea to have it removed is somewhat an old medical practice. Let's face it guys, that little gland you have can mean big money for the medical industry, so don't panic and move too quickly to have an invasive procedure done to correct prostate problems. There are new advances in MRI testing methods that can help define just what exactly is up with your prostate and elevated PSA numbers.
Here are a few common things that can cause higher than normal PSA levels, all of which fall into the manly category of poor behaviors.
1. Eating highly inflammatory poor food choices.
2. Drinking too much alcohol.
3. Marathon bike rides.
4. Chronic exercising.
5. Riding horses or hours in the saddle on your favorite motorcycle.
6. Too much sex! This is true you can have too much of a good thing.
7. Certain medications.
8. Benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH.
9. Prostatitis which is an inflamed prostate.
10. Urinary tract infections.
As you can see, there are many factors that can affect your PSA levels so it is always a good idea to wait for up to six weeks and abstain from drinking, over exercising and yes even sex for 48 hours before you have a second PSA test.
Also, be very clear with your healthcare provider on what medications you are taking as this can throw off a PSA test too. I know from first hand experience, not all healthcare providers are knowledgeable enough to ask you specific questions around medications, diet, exercise and sexual frequency to effectively advise on PSA levels. One other important aspect in diagnosing an enlarged prostate is the dreaded DRE or digital rectal examination and if your provider has not done this, they are missing an essential indicator of a prostate problem.
Another aspect that men over fifty need to be aware of is not all of you will show symptoms of an enlarging prostate or prostate problems. While many men will develop issues with the frequency of urination or they feel the need to go but can't or are up all night to pee, others do not. So just because you have no symptoms does not mean you don't need to be very aware of your prostate health.
Now back to the urologist and how they test for prostate cancer. The standard biopsy method is done by sticking a biopsy needle into your prostate in twelve different locations to get good coverage of the whole prostate. This method is not always effective in finding cancer and can lead to about three percent of men developing an infection from the procedure. With newer MRI technology using the cutting edge Tesla or 3T MRI machines which give a much higher image definition, urologists can be much more accurate at locating a potential cancerous area within the prostate, then do a targeted biopsy in that specific location.
Once the problem is identified with your prostate, then the best course of action can be determined. It is important to note that some prostate cancer is very slow growing and can be treated without removing the prostate. Other chronic prostate disorders that are not cancer-related can be treated with medication and even diet.
Here are a few things you can do to maintain excellent prostate health.
1. Eat healthy whole plant-based foods.
2. Get plenty of ginger in your diet.
3. Don't wear super tight clothing or over tighten your belt. This can restrict lymphatic flow, harming your prostate health.
4. Saw palmetto, B6 and zinc are useful for maintaining prostate health.
5. Moderation with certain types of exercise and sexual activity.
All men over forty should keep an eye on your prostate health and don't overreact to high PSA levels. Consult with healthcare providers that really understand prostate health and always get more then one PSA blood test if the first one is high. Not every health issue with your prostate is cancer and not all prostate cancer is deadly. With that said, do not underestimate your prostate health either, so take a very balanced approach to treatment and know your options.
A recognized health and wellness presenter, fitness trainer and now primal health coach in the Inland Northwest. Now in his eighth year of bringing health and wellness through his writing, teaching and coaching, Judd delivers his well-rounded message of mindfulness, nutrition and fitness to readers and clients alike.