Staying healthy as you age is a priority for many Americans, yet your body undergoes changes that are often beyond your control. Hormonal shifts in mid-life bring on unwelcome discomforts for both men and women. For men, one of the most bothersome of these age-related changes is an enlarged prostate.
An enlarged prostate, known clinically as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, is non-cancerous growth of the male prostate gland that occurs in almost all men as they grow older. The prostate is a reproductive gland that produces the fluid that carries sperm during ejaculation. Because the prostate surrounds the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body, an enlarged prostate puts pressure on the urethra, making urinating difficult and sometimes leading to bladder problems.
Zinc Properties and Dosage
Many nutrients have been examined for potential properties that might ease the symptoms of BPH. Zinc is an essential trace mineral that is present in many proteins and plays a role in immune response and cell growth. Zinc is of interest as a treatment for BPH because it is present in significant amounts in prostate cells, where it appears to play a protective and anti-inflammatory role. While zinc supplementation may seem a logical treatment for BPH, the Linus Pauling Institute cautions that excessively high doses of zinc greater than 100 mg may increase the risk of prostate cancer. The United States Institute of Medicine currently sets the upper limits for zinc supplementation at 40 mg. Dietary zinc is found in large quantities in oysters and red meats.
Zinc and Enlarged Prostate
In a 2007 study, Oregon State University researchers examined the role of zinc in the DNA damage response of prostate cells. The study led the research team to conclude that zinc deficiency may impair the function of zinc-containing proteins in the prostate leading to abnormalities in prostate function and growth, and increasing the risk for prostate cancer. While it is believed that adequate zinc consumption may prevent abnormal prostate growth, it is unclear whether supplementing with zinc will entirely shrink the prostate once growth has occurred.
Other Treatments for BPH
While many pharmaceutical interventions are available to treat symptoms of BPH, one natural herbal supplement frequently taken by enlarged prostate sufferers is Saw Palmetto. According Medline Plus, numerous studies have shown that saw palmetto is effective in easing BPH symptoms. The Linus Pauling Institute also notes that phytosterols, plant compounds that are similar to cholesterol, are potentially helpful in treating BPH. In several clinical trials, phytosterols were found to improve symptoms of the lower urinary tract related to BPH. Foods containing phytosterols include unrefined vegetable oils, legumes, nuts and whole grains.
- New York Times Health Guide: Enlarged Prostate
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: Zinc
- Linus Pauling Institute; Phytosterols; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.; Sept. 2008
- Medline Plus; Enlarged Prostate; aug. 10, 2009
- Linus Pauling Institute: Zinc and Prostate Cancer: Emily Ho, PhD and Michelle Yan; May 2005
- "Journal of Nutrition"; Zinc Deficiency Alters DNA Damage Response Genes in Normal Human Prostate Epithelial Cells: Michelle Yan, et. al., 2008