By Erik Johnson L.Ac. MSTCM, BD, DNM
The prostate’s name origin comes from Greece, where it is roughly translated as “the one that stands before” or the “protector”. This important organ in male reproductive health plays a vital role in the controlled release of urine and in the assistance of producing an alkaline substance that aids in the health of seminal fluid. As the name implies, this organ is a fundamental piece in male reproduction and daily health. Today, it is estimated that by the age of 80 over 90% of men will experience some sort of disorder with his prostate gland in the form of benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostatitis, and/or prostate cancer. Unfortunately, there is not a known cure for these prostate related disorders and current treatment plans are only used to minimize common symptoms. If left untreated, these disorders can lead to further complications such as: bladder stones, bladder infections, and urinary retention issues, which could require additional medical treatments or procedures.
The biological mechanism of the various prostate disorders is still widely debated. Treatment options are only limited to mitigating symptomatic representations, and often these western medical treatment options come with unwanted side effects. However, new research is being done to show that that “alternative” therapy options such as acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be effective monotherapies or adjunct therapies to western medicine as it relates to prostate health in males.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
Out of all the prostate related disorders, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is the most common urological condition caused by the non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland as men get older. As the prostate enlarges, it can squeeze down on the urethra, causing men to have trouble urinating – leading to symptoms of BPH. Although BPH only refers to an increase in the number of cells, this term is commonly used interchangeably with patients that suffer from prostate hypertrophy (increase in the size of individual cells). Regardless, the main symptoms associated with BPH are known as lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS).
Since the prostate is just below the bladder, its enlargement can result in symptoms that irritate or obstruct the bladder. Common symptoms are: the need to frequently empty the bladder (especially at night), difficulty in beginning to urinate, dribbling after urination ends, decreased size and strength of the urine stream, sensation that the bladder is not empty even when urinating is complete, inability to postpone urination once the urge to urinate begins, and pushing or straining in order to urinate. In extreme cases, a man might not be able to urinate at all, which is an emergency that requires prompt attention.
Screening and Diagnosis for BPH
When it comes to Western Medicine, it typically starts with a diagnosis by obtaining a positive rectal exam (inserting a finger into the anus to palpate for an enlarged prostate). A Urologist might want to perform such tests as: a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test to screen for prostate cancer, urinary cytology urine test to screen for bladder cancer, a measurement of post-void residual volume (PVR) for the amount of urine left in the bladder after urinating, uroflowmetry (or urine flow study) to measure how fast urine flows when a man urinates, a cystoscopy to look in the urethra and/or bladder using a small flexible scope, a urodynamic pressure-flow study to test the pressures inside the bladder during urination, and/or an ultrasound of the kidney or the prostate to view for abnormal enlargement of the glands.
Prostate cancer, also known as carcinoma of the prostate, is the development of cancer in the prostate. Most prostate cancers are slow growing; however, some grow relatively fast. The cancer cells may spread from the prostate to other parts of the body, particularly the bones and lymph nodes. It may initially cause no symptoms but, in later stages, it can cause symptoms such as: weakness or numbness in the legs or feet, loss of bladder or bowel control from pressing on the spinal cord, problems passing urine (including a slow or weak urinary stream or the need to urinate more often, especially at night), blood in the urine, erectile dysfunction, and pain in the hips, back (spine), chest (ribs), or other areas from cancer that has spread to bones.
Screening and Diagnosis for Prostate Cancer
A digital or physical rectal exam may first be performed to first check for abnormalities of the prostate gland. However, the only test that can fully confirm the diagnosis of prostate cancer is a biopsy, the removal of small pieces of the prostate for microscopic examination. Prior to a biopsy, less invasive testing can also be conducted such as: a rectal exam, cystoscopy of the bladder by inserting a camera tube down the urethra, a transrectal ultrasonography imagining used by creating an image of the prostate using sounds waves from a probe inserted into the rectum, and an ultrasound or MRI to detect cancer in the prostate.
Once a biopsy has been performed, the collected tissue samples may be used to check for tumor markers in tissue samples stained for the presence of PSA and/or a Gleason score to determine if cancer cells are present. If tissue samples come back positive for cancer, the next step is to determine the stage of cancer for appropriate treatment steps. In the Tumor/Nodes/Metastases (TNM) system, clinical T1 and T2 cancers are found only in the prostate, while T3 and T4 cancers have spread elsewhere in the body.
Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture as a Treatment Option
Unlike some forms of medicine, acupuncture focuses each treatment on balancing the entire body – both physically and emotionally. The goal of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is to help treat the root of a patient’s ailment and to help him/her find a whole body homeostatic balance. Whether it is through acupuncture or other Traditional Chinese Medicine tools (ex: herbal formulas, electrical stimulation, moxibustion, auricular therapy, etc…), an acupuncture treatment can be an excellent tool to help treat prostate issues on both a physical level and an emotional level. For many cases, it often comes down to simply promoting blocked urination and reducing the inflammation/swelling in the body. Emotions also play a strong role for most men and there are multiple stress reduction treatment options available.
The final approach to treating prostate disorders is through the use of dietary changes. The following is a short list of recommendations to a patient’s diet to help combat prostate related ailments:
- Saw Palmetto Berries (Fructus Serenoa Repens) – proven to treat BPH and also improves other symptoms such as nocturia, dysuria, and urinary flow rate. It treats BPH through its anti-androgenic properties by preventing the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and inhibiting DHT binding to cellular and nuclear receptor sites.
- Zinc – multiple studies have shown a correlation between BPH and zinc deficiency. Some zinc rich foods include sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds/oil.
- Beta-sitosterol – studies has shown that it consistently improves urinary symptoms related to prostate enlargement. Common foods that are higher in beta-sitosterol include avocado, pumpkin seeds, and pecans.
- Other foods known to reduce prostate size: anise tangerines, cherries, figs, litchis, sunflower seeds, mangos, and seaweed.
Here at the Healing Center, we use a combination of both Eastern Medicine and Functional Medicine to approach personalized patient health care from all available modalities – creating profound balance, harmony, and well-being in our patients. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine add another amazing approach to helping us overcome certain ailments, especially as it relates to the prostate. Book an appointment today with our acupuncturist Erik Johnson to see how this medicine can drastically reduce any symptoms that you or your loved ones are currently experiencing.
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