June is national men’s health month. The idea of considering prostate health may not be a fun one (especially because of the dreaded exam), but engaging in healthy habits and diet, plus supplements such as probiotics can help support prostate health--reducing risk of developing symptoms, or enhancing outcomes of medical protocols used to manage benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
While men become more deeply concerned about such health issues as weight gain and cardiovascular health as they age, these concerns are also shared by women. Two issues which men specifically are more concerned with, however, are prostate health and sexual virility.
The prostate gland lies between the rectum and bladder and is responsible for manufacturing some of the compounds found in semen. As many men age, the prostate tends to grow, a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia. It creates annoying symptoms that impact urination.
More uncomfortable is prostatitis – inflammation of the prostate. According to one source, prostatitis “refers to a loose assemblage of syndromes characterized by urinary problems — for example, burning or painful urination, urgency, and trouble voiding — difficult or painful ejaculation, and pain in the perineum or lower back.”
The National Institutes of Health has four classifications of prostatitis (acute bacterial prostatitis, chronic bacterial prostatitis, chronic prostatitis & chronic pelvic pain syndrome, and asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis). In the US, prostatitis is one of the most common ailments diagnosed by urologists; it is responsible for nearly 2 million outpatient visits annually. It is made in approximately 25% of men who have symptoms. And approximately 8 percent of men deal with prostatitis during their lifetimes. The most common is the chronic prostatitis/pelvic pain syndrome, which comprises approximately 90 to 95% of cases.
Probiotics for the Prostate
Researchers have begun investigating if and how probiotics can help support the prostate and reduce incidence of prostatitis.
Researchers in one study hypothesize that an underlying key cause of chronic prostatitis is urethra dysbacteriosis—or a bacterial imbalance in the urethra. They believe that common use of antibiotics may be a factor that initiates a bout of chronic prostatitis (CP). The authors concluded that if this is correct as further investigation may reveal, then “it would provide us with fundamental basis for possible probiotic-based therapeutic strategies for CP.”
Another study looked at men who had both chronic prostatitis and IBS to evaluate the efficacy of therapeutic administration of the pharmaceutical rifaximin followed by introduction of the probiotic strain VSL#3 compared to no treatment on the progression of chronic prostatitis toward chronic microbial prostate-vesiculitis (PV) or prostate-vesiculo-epididymitis (PVE), both more serious conditions. The researchers found that long-term consumption of rifaximin and the probiotic showed efficacy in inhibiting the progression of prostatitis into more concerning prostate dysfunctions.
The idea of probiotics helping to manage prostatitis was found intriguing enough for a company to apply for a patent on a probiotic suppository. In the abstract for the patent, titled, “Method, composition, and delivery mode for treatment of prostatitis and other urogenital infections using a probiotic rectal suppository,” the authors describe the use of several strains of Lactobacillus for the management of urinary tract bacteria and pathogens, and their “associated diseases by both a reduction in the rate of colonization of the infection and pathogens.”
Other Prostate-Support Supplements
There are three supplements that top the list for prostate support, that in conjunction with probiotics, may help men enhance nutritional protection of their prostate glands.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens): Berries from the saw palmetto plant have long been used to support prostate health. One meta-analysis sought to determine the efficacy this botanical extract in men with symptoms of BPH. The team looked at 18 randomized controlled trials involving more than 2,900 participants. They concluded that “the evidence suggests that S repens improves urologic symptoms and flow measures. Compared with finasteride, S repens produces similar improvement in urinary tract symptoms and urinary flow and was associated with fewer adverse treatment events.”
Pumpkin seed (Cucurbita pepo): Pumpkin seed is naturally rich in zinc, which is used by the prostate; low zinc levels have been found to be associated with BPH symptoms. One team examining the effects of pumpkin seed oil in prostate tissue found that it can inhibit testosterone-induced hyperplasia of the prostate and therefore may help manage BPH. A clinical trial gave men with urinary tract symptoms as part of BPH either pumpkin seed oil or placebo for a year, and found that overall, the botanical “led to a clinically relevant reduction” in International Prostate Symptom Scores. (Oh, and of course this means you can take zinc separately if you want to; but you can take too much, which will cause unpleasant symptoms.)
One study gave a combination of saw palmetto, pumpkin seed oil, a combination of both or a placebo to 47 men with BPH (average age of 53.3) for 12 months. After three months, those taking the combination saw a drop in serum prostate specific antigen; this was not observed in the singular supplement groups nor placebo. The authors concluded that the results suggest that consuming saw palmetto and pumpkin seed oils were safe and “may be effective as complementary and alternative medicine treatments for benign prostatic hyperplasia.”
Men should begin to get an annual prostate exam in their late 40s or 50; screenings can help prevent worse conditions, most notably prostate cancer. Probiotics’ usefulness in supporting prostate function and structure is emerging, and showcases yet another viable way in which probiotic supplements may benefit human health and well-being.