Prostate problems: Too common to ignore

Here’s some eye-opening facts: about one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.

Additionally, half of all men between the ages of 51 and 60 will experience benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or enlarged prostate. This number increases to 70 percent for men aged 60 to 69 and reaches 90 percent for men over 85.

And while many men stay silent about their prostate problems, ignoring this widespread health issue won’t make it disappear.

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, Enlarged prostate)

The prostate, a walnut-sized gland, helps produce semen, the fluid that carries sperm. It surrounds the urethra, the tube that carries urine out from the bladder. As the prostate grows, it can squeeze the urethra.

As men get older, the prostate often enlarges such that the gland can double or even triple in size — imagine a walnut growing to the size of a lime. The resultant squeezing of the urethra can make urination difficult and prevent the bladder from emptying fully. Those affected may need to urinate more often, especially at night, experience extreme urgency to urinate or may even experience involuntary urination.

What causes an enlarged prostate?

There isn’t enough confirmed scientific evidence about the precise blend of genetic, environmental, dietary, and other influences that lead to prostate issues as men grow older. This uncertainty means there’s no simple way to avoid these problems.

Growing older appears to be the biggest factor in developing an enlarged prostate.

However, research has also shown that men who are overweight, or who have risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, may be more likely to have an enlarged prostate. So improving cardiometabolic health could potentially have a significant – and seemingly unrelated – side benefit in men.

In the extreme, an enlarged prostate can have serious consequences such as recurrent urinary tract infections or kidney malfunction, but for most men, symptoms are more about quality of life, and treatments aim to ease urinary difficulties. Cutting down on fluids in the evenings and limiting diuretics like caffeine and alcohol can help. For more significant relief, medications can relax or shrink the prostate, and surgical options can reduce its size.

Prostate cancer and at-risk groups

Men who live long enough are likely to develop prostate cancer; 70 percent of those over 70 have some cancerous cells in their prostate. Indeed, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. In the U.S. and U.K., prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men, following lung cancer. The average age at diagnosis is 67, with cases rare in men under 40.

Genetic mutations play a role, with family history increasing risk significantly. Men with two or more close male relatives with prostate cancer are 5-10 times more likely to be diagnosed. Additionally, Black men face a 70 percent higher risk of getting and dying from prostate cancer for reasons not yet fully understood.

When it comes to prostate cancer, the best offense is a good defense. Meaning – getting screened and catching it early. According to the American Cancer Society, starting screening is appropriate at:

  • Age 50 for men who are at average risk of prostate cancer
  • Age 45 for men at higher risk of developing prostate cancer. This includes African American men and men who have a first-degree relative (father or brother) diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (younger than age 65).
  • Age 40 for men at even higher risk (those with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age)

Prostate gland enlargement does not mean you have prostate cancer or that you will develop it. Prostate cancer and BPH are different conditions.

Treatment for enlarged prostate

Beta-sitosterol, a specific plant sterol, has been shown to improve urinary symptoms and even reduce the risk of prostate cancer. While the data on plant sterols and prostate health isn’t as strong as that for heart health, the benefits are promising.

The actual way plant sterols do this is unclear, but multiple potential mechanisms have been documented. For example, beta-sitosterol has been shown to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in the cells involved in the genesis/growth of prostate cancer. In terms of BPH, multiple studies have also shown that beta-sitosterol can significantly improve urinary tract symptoms, but as effectively as pharmaceuticals (though without side effects).

Most plant sterol supplements used for BPH symptoms deliver between 300 and 400 mg of beta-sitosterol. That means if you’re a man and you’re eating even one serving of Step One Foods per day, you’re getting plenty of beta-sitosterol for supporting prostate health as well! One serving of Step One Foods delivers 750 milligrams of beta-sitosterol. Each product contains at least 1000 mg of plant sterols, with around 75 percent being beta-sitosterol.

Beyond prostate support, Step One products offer extra health benefits, including improved heart health — the leading cause of death for men and women. Prostate cancer is clearly a scary prospect. But so is a heart attack or stroke.

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Dr. Elizabeth Klodas MD, FACC

By Dr. Elizabeth Klodas MD, FACC

"Diet is a major driver of high cholesterol, but instead of changing the food, we prescribe medications. This never seemed logical to me.” Dr. Klodas has dedicated her career to preventive cardiology. Trained at Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins, she is the founder and Chief Medical Officer for Step One Foods. Dr. Klodas is a nationally sought out speaker and has an active role at the American College of Cardiology. Her clinical interests include prevention of heart disease and non-invasive cardiac imaging and she has published dozens of scientific articles throughout her career. Dr. Klodas has been featured on CNN Health for her mission to change how heart disease is treated. An independent study performed at leading medical institutions affirmed the ability of Step One Foods to deliver measurable and meaningful cholesterol-reduction benefits in the real world. The results of the trial were presented at the 2018 American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions. Dr. Klodas has also authored a book for patients, "Slay the Giant: The Power of Prevention in Defeating Heart Disease," and served as founding Editor-in-Chief of the patient education effort of the American College of Cardiology. In addition to her practice and her duties at Step One Foods, she also serves as medical editor for webMD.