From buying life insurance to dealing with male pattern baldness, there are some issues in a man’s life that are both a nuisance and confusing. Understanding and maintaining the health of the prostate gland is one such issue. Even if your prostate hasn’t overtly announced any displeasure, you are probably vaguely aware of the gland and its significance. But if you are like most men, you have had an occasion already to learn about your prostate but could use some straight information about natural ways to maintain its health. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that sits at the base of the bladder, astride the urethra. Forming part of the reproductive system, this gland secretes a fluid that helps to make up semen, and functions to energize and alkalize sperm. Medical scientists know little more about this gland’s function. What scientists do know is that an unhealthy prostate can cause pain and discomfort associated with a decline in healthy urinary function and sexual performance. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), prostate cancer, and prostatitis are common health challenges associated with the prostate gland, with more than 7 million men suffering from prostate conditions in the United States alone. Benign prostate hyperplasia As a man ages, his prostate gland typically begins to enlarge, which is referred to as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH causes the prostate gland to constrict the urethra, in a similar fashion to a clamp on a garden hose. Over time, the bladder begins to contract even when there are only small amounts of urine present causing frequent urination. As the bladder weakens from this constant irritation, it finally loses its ability to empty itself, which sets the stage for serious bladder infections and kidney malfunction. Prostate cancer Cancer of the prostate gland is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers among men. It is a leading cause of cancer death among American men, second only to lung cancer. One in five men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime, and 3 percent will die from it. This condition occurs when normal prostate cells turn cancerous (malignant) and divide at an unreasonable rate. African-American men, men aged 65 and older, and men who have a first-degree relative with prostate cancer are at an increased risk. There are essentially no warning signs for early prostate cancer. As the cancer advances, some men may experience symptoms similar to those associated with BPH (urinary frequency, urgency, pain with urination, etc.) or a urinary tract infection. Prostatitis Prostatitis is a bacterial infection of the prostate gland. As the infection advances, the gland begins to swell, causing symptoms of painful, urgent and frequent urination, which requires antibiotic therapy. Men can also experience non-bacterial prostatitis. This condition is common, has no known cause and does not respond to antibiotics. Nutritional and herbal treatments Saw palmetto, stinging nettle root, pygeum bark, green tea, lycopene, zinc, and essential fatty acids are effective and safe treatments for nonbacterial prostatitis, and for helping to prevent and treat BPH and prostate cancer. How saw palmetto works Saw palmetto is proven to maintain healthy urinary and prostate function by encouraging healthy testosterone levels and influencing fatty acid metabolism in favor of prostaglandins that decrease inflammation in the body. How stinging nettle root works Stinging nettle root binds to sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a key to its ability to maintain prostate health. Often within the body, testosterone and estrogen bind to SHBG and cause abnormal cell growth. As men age, their SHBG levels increase, making them more susceptible to abnormal cell growth. This root also inhibits an enzyme, aromatase, which helps to lower estrogen levels in the prostate gland. Stinging nettle root extract is a popular herbal preparation in Germany, and its widespread use spurred the onset of numerous clinical trials over the past 10 years. Collectively, these trials, which include double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials on up to 5,000 patients, demonstrate the benefits of using stinging nettle root to maintain healthy prostate function in men. How effective treatments options Pygeum bark moderates prostaglandin and prolactin metabolism in the prostate and functions to normalize cholesterol levels and decrease inflammation. Collectively these actions support healthy prostate and bladder activity in men. Green tea also shows tremendous promise in maintaining the health of the prostate gland. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles reported that consumption of tea polyphenols as found in green tea for as little as five consecutive days supports healthy prostate tissue. Lycopene from tomato skin is a well-researched antioxidant, with an impressive number of clinical trials demonstrating the association between consumption of lycopene in foods and prostate health. Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and their relation to prostate disease Raw pumpkin seeds are a valuable source of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and zinc, which are important to maintaining healthy prostate function. EFAs represent a group of essential fats which the body is incapable of manufacturing on its own. They include the omega 3 (linolenic) and omega 6 (linoleic) fatty acids. BPH patients have fewer omega 3 fatty acids in their blood, and prostate cancer patients have significantly less omega 3 fatty acids in their blood. The body metabolizes EFAs into a group of components known as prostaglandins. The word prostaglandin comes from the fact that these products of fatty acid metabolism were originally found in the prostate gland (prosta – gland – in). Prostaglandins regulate every organ system in the body. However, EFAs cannot make these beneficial prostaglandins without zinc. Not surprisingly, researchers have found that the level of zinc in the prostate gland declines dramatically in men suffering from prostate cancer or BPH, making pumpkin seeds, with their high levels of both EFAs and zinc, an ideal source of fat for individuals interested in maintaining a healthy prostate and urinary function. Researchers are still not clear on what the entire purpose of the prostate gland is and exactly how it functions. What the medical community does know is that it is a critical gland of the male reproductive system and that when this gland is diseased in any way, it can cause a tremendous amount of pain and suffering. Herbal and nutritional medicines turn out to be an important therapy for men experiencing or wanting to prevent prostate disease, including benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), prostatitis.