A Blog For The Boys
Movember is here! It’s that time of year when moustaches are well and truly in vogue, as men ditch their shavers to raise money and awareness for men’s health charities. While it’s all great fun, and you may have been tempted to join in yourself, it’s also a great opportunity to think about your own health and check that you’re doing everything you can now to avoid potential prostate problems later.
A bladder infection is commonly linked to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is an enlarged prostate gland, a condition that affects more than one third of men in the UK over the age of 50 and over half of men over-60, and is partly due to a change in hormone profile as men age. While it’s not necessarily a risk factor for prostate cancer, it can cause some unpleasant symptoms that impact day-to-day life, such as increased need for urination and difficulty in fully emptying the bladder. If you experience any of these symptoms, then the first step is to consult your GP for advice.
You may be wondering if there’s anything you can do now to reduce your risk of prostate problems further down the line and there are a number of nutritional and lifestyle factors that may help.
Maintaining a healthy weight is one of these, and exercise can play a key role in prostate health by reducing the risk of BPH. Increased calorie intake and abdominal obesity stimulate the body’s stress response which may cause the smooth muscle in the prostate to contract, increasing pressure on the urinary tract and making the symptoms worse. Regular exercise can help to counteract this, by increasing blood flow to the area and moderating the stress response. It should also help decrease excess abdominal fat, reducing pressure on the lower body, and potentially relieving symptoms.
In terms of specific foods that might help, tomatoes seem a good place to start, as they’re cheap and easy to find, as well as being a great source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant shown by a number of studies to promote prostate health. If you add some fat to a tomato salad in the form of olive oil, for example, this will enhance the absorption of the antioxidants, increasing the protective effect. And for an even stronger impact, try eating cooked or processed tomatoes, as these provide lycopene in concentrated form, so if you’re a fan of ketchup, you might already be doing your prostate a good turn!
It’s not just tomatoes, though, there are a whole range of other vegetables that can help too, and most people simply don’t eat enough, tending to focus on fruit to make up their 5-a-day. If prostate health is your goal, you probably need to think again. A recent study in the US concluded that increased intake of vegetables can reduce the risk of BPH, due to the high levels of antioxidants such as vitamin C, beta-carotene (found in yellow and orange vegetables), and lutein (found in spinach, kale, watercress and other green vegetables). Soups, casseroles and juices are good ways of adding a variety of vegetables to your diet without really noticing it, so try taking a more creative approach if the idea of more vegetable portions is a bit off-putting.
A more controversial area to consider is animal protein, as the evidence base is uncertain: a study in China suggested a link between high levels of animal protein and incidence of BPH, although other studies show conflicting results. It could still be worth reducing animal protein, though, as there are some added advantages to introducing vegetable protein into your diet for a few days each week: for example, pulses, nuts, and seeds will boost your zinc levels, which is key for prostate health. Vegetable protein also provides further protection in the form of hormone-balancing nutrients called isoflavones, found in soya beans, lentils, chick peas and other legumes.
No lifestyle advice would be complete without a section on alcohol, of course! Interestingly, a few studies have shown that very small amounts of alcohol may reduce the risk of developing BPH. However, NHS guidelines generally advise avoiding alcohol, due to the diuretic effects that may irritate the bladder and worsen the symptoms of BPH.
So you don’t just have to leave it to chance. A few adjustments to your diet now might just pay dividends later and help you avoid those awkward symptoms that some men experience as they get older.