PSA level tests, however—that’s a trickier matter.
The prostate gland is geographically the lowest organ in the body. It’s way down under: much lower than the thyroid gland and well below the adrenal glands.
It’s gender-specific. There’s no female equivalent. (Keeping with gender fairness, in 2002, a woman’s paraurethral glands, or Skene’s glands, were officially renamed the “female prostate” by the Federative International Committee on Anatomical Terminology.) Really?
Strategically, a man’s prostate surrounds the urethra and sits just below the urinary bladder, and in front of the rectum. If it clogs up, it expands and blocks the flow of urine, making it difficult to urinate; much more so then when young. It secretes a slightly alkaline, milky-white sticky fluid that makes up most of the volume of semen. The prostate also plays a role in male orgasm.
Since prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting older men in the United States and Europe, and is responsible for about 3% of deaths in elderly men, a test for early detection would understandably get a lot of attention. The PSA test was considered the gold standard for early prostate cancer detection. However, it turned out that PSA levels were not the only factor associated with prostate cancer.
The PSA Controversy
For decades, a simple routine blood test – the prostate specific antigen (PSA) – was a man’s equivalent to a mammogram. Levels above 3.0 were considered dangerous. When the numbers went higher, doctors were sure patients had prostate cancer. But there are lots of reasons PSA levels can rise—inflammation and infections are but two of them.
Benign enlargement, a physiologic but not cancerous change in prostate tissue, also sends PSA levels up. Conventional medical wisdom believed age drove PSA higher, as well—an created a greater risk for prostate cancer.
Were the experts right?
It turns out a lot of conventional prostate wisdom has been proven unhelpful when it comes to prostate health.
High PSA Doesn’t Always Mean Cancer
My clinical experience shows that PSA levels are considerable lower in healthy men, of any age, especially those that consume a plant-based diet. Yet high PSA levels don’t always mean cancer, and they don’t necessarily rise just because men age.
There are several effective, natural ways to lower PSA and unclog the prostate. It also turns out that though the prostate gland is prone to cancerous changes, lifestyle matters. Besides, the cancer typically grows so slowly that even if left untreated, many older men are not overwhelmed by prostate cancer. The medical term is “watchful waiting” or “expectant management” with active surveillance—in other words, keeping an eye on your own symptoms and checking in with your doctor for a rectal prostate exam and ultrasound regularly.
The most accurate way to visualize the prostate is with an MRI, but doctors are reluctant to order them, even if they are considerably better than an ultrasound, because health insurance companies won’t pay.
Researchers recently found that routine PSA testing did not save lives. The controversy lies in too many unnecessary procedures including expensive and dramatic medical intervention for men who didn’t have prostate cancer or had slow growing cancers that older men would outlive. Is PSA at fault, or are over treatments the results of greedy doctors?
It’s well known that doctors who have a financial interest in radiation treatment centers for prostate cancer are much more likely to prescribe these treatments for patients. A governmental report [http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/656026.pdf ] detailing this practice was published in July 2013.
It’s also known that if a positive result of a blood test is linked to a disease, like the PSA with prostate cancer, doctors feel obligated to refer patients to urologists and oncologists, both very expensive specialists who often do more harm than good. The solution, at least from the government’s point of view, is to stop ordering tests, which is like removing stop signs at intersections because there are too many accidents caused by people not stopping.
Why not instead start a national campaign on prostate health?
Food Matters—So Do Supplements and Herbs
Foods play an important role in prostate health. High PSA levels are associated with a sedentary lifestyle, high-fat diet, and consuming the synthetic sweetener Aspartame. The plant-based diet rich in polyphenol compounds lowers prostate cancer risk. Physically active men, and that includes sexual activity, have less trouble with their prostate.
My clinical experience shows that male vegetarians and those that eat a macrobiotic diet have lower PSA levels, at any age. Exercise improves all aspects of health including cancer prevention, but doesn’t counter the effects of the modern Westernized diet. Your best approach to prostate cancer prevention are a healthy plant-based low fat diet plus regular exercise—and sit less.
Supplements help lower PSA and unclog the prostate. Zinc and selenium are the favored male health nutrients. Modified citrus pectin high in bioflavonoids has shown to be effective in managing prostate cancer. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) fish oil and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) rich flax oil help lower PSA. Coenzyme Q10 and lycopene also have prostate health benefits.
Herbs are particularly helpful. King among them is saw palmetto berry (Serenoa repens). For more than 30 years, saw palmetto berries have been widely used in the U.S. and Europe as natural alterative ?-blockers and 5?-reductase inhibitors, drugs that manage testosterone metabolism and improve urinary tract symptoms in men with an enlarged, clogged prostate gland. Saw palmetto extract works at least as good as these drugs, but there is no evidence that it helps advanced prostate cancer.
Super foods have also been found to prevent prostate cancer and lower PSA. Ellagic acid (EA) found in pomegranate juice inhibits prostate cancer. Ellagic acid is a phytochemical also found in raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, walnuts, pecans, and many other plant foods. However, pomegranate extract is the choice for unclogging the prostate gland and getting PSA down.
Chinese herbal formulas have long been used to unblock a clogged prostate. Traditional Chinese herbalists prescribe a balance of several different herbs to treat the whole body as well as target the prostate. Kai Kit Wan (Prostate Pill) is commonly used and readily available on the Internet or in Chinese herbal pharmacies. It is reported to improve urinary symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate gland.
We have yet to unlock all of the mysteries of the prostate gland. But we know a lot of ways to improve prostate health. Even if your doctor no longer routinely follows your PSA levels, you may still choose to get tested on your own. If your numbers are higher than normal, consult a doctor knowledgeable in prostate health for ways to determine why your PSA is high, and then start an active plan using natural therapies.
Key Points for Prostate Health
- Eat a low fat, high fiber plant-based diet
- Get enough zinc and selenium
- Take a high EPA fish oil supplement
- Add flax and chia seeds in to healthy smoothies
- Include pomegranate juice and other polyphenol-rich super foods
- Take saw palmetto berry extract
- Consider taking modified citrus pectin
- Balance your prostate gland’s function with Chinese herbs