In honour of Movember, I would like to take a mo-ment to discuss an extremely important aspect of men’s health: the prostate gland.
What is the prostate gland?
The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. It is a walnut-shaped gland that is under the bladder, in front of the rectum. Its main job is to produce fluid for reproductive purposes. The urethra (the tube through which urine and seminal fluid exit the body) passes through the prostate (which is important to know as this anatomical positioning accounts for many of the symptoms of prostate conditions).
Symptoms of prostate issues include:
- An increase in the frequency of bathroom visits
- Urgency to urinate (sometimes with only a small production of urine)
- Difficulty starting or stopping urination
The following symptoms should be urgently assessed by a medical doctor:
- Pain with urinating or after ejaculating
- Pain in the penis, scrotum or the area between the scrotum and anus
- Blood in the urine
- Severe abdominal discomfort
- A weak urine flow or dribbling at the end of urinating
- Fevers, chill, aches
- Trouble controlling the bladder (like stopping or delaying urinating)
- Unable to completely empty bladder
- Urine is an unusual odor/colour
***The sudden inability to urinate warrants immediate medical attention!***
The Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA)
As you can imagine (or maybe you have had the unfortunate opportunity to experience it), the quality of life impact of prostate issues cannot be understated. Always speak with your medical doctor regarding these issues and treatment options. One way your medical doctor will assess the health of your prostate is through a PSA blood test. PSA stands for Prostate Specific Antigen, a protein made by the prostate cells. PSA is found in semen and blood, and is normal in small amounts. This blood test is a screening tool for prostate cancer because (generally speaking) as PSA levels increase, so does the risk for cancer. However, this is not as clear-cut as it seems as PSA levels naturally rise with age and can fluctuate for many reasons outside of cancer. Therefore, your medical doctor will take your PSA level and other things into account (including your age, a prostate exam, family history and other health factors) in order to gather a full clinical picture to help determine your risk for prostate cancer. Keep in mind that PSA levels can also be elevated due to an enlarged prostate (referred to as benign prostatic hyperplasia), an infection within the prostate (referred to as prostatitis), a urinary tract infection, and more.
What the research says about turmeric and PSA levels:
Chronic inflammation is speculated to be the culprit of high serum (blood) PSA levels. Therefore, it is no surprise (especially if you have read previous blogs!) that researchers have been looking into the potential therapeutic benefit turmeric may have on the prostate gland. A randomized, double-blinded and placebo-controlled study conducted in 2007 had men take either 2 tablets of isoflavones (a type of nutrient found in legumes with soy being a prime example) and curcumin (the main medicinal ingredient in turmeric) or placebo daily for 6 months. These men had elevated PSA levels but were biopsy-negative (meaning they did not have cancer). The results? Soy isoflavone and curcumin decreased serum PSA levels. It is important to mention that the authors note that in previous studies, isoflavones alone did not curb PSA levels.
A more recent high-quality study actually evaluated curcumin’s activity in subjects with prostate cancer. Subjects who finished their first round of cancer treatment were randomized into a curcumin group (consisting of 1440mg of oral curcumin per day) or a placebo group for 6 months and were followed up with at the beginning of their second round of treatment. The result? PSA elevation was suppressed with curcumin intake compared to placebo. The authors also note that the dose of curcumin administered was well tolerated and safe. Other studies have shown that curcumin stops the growth and induces apoptosis (cell death) in cultured prostate cancer cells.
The research is therefore promising in terms of curcumin’s PSA suppression in men with and without cancer. This means that there could be positive therapeutic effects in the prevention and perhaps treatment of prostate cancer and the prevention and management of other prostate conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia. It is hypothesized that curcumin is able to do so by combating the unnecessary inflammation that leads to these conditions. Of course, it is ideal to do what we can within our control to protect our health as much as we can, for as long as we can. Prevention is key! Do your best to lead an anti-inflammatory lifestyle that includes avoiding processed foods and smoking, partaking in exercise and stress reduction activities, and consider the addition of an anti-inflammatory supplement to your daily regimen such as a full-spectrum turmeric.