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Protecting the Prostate

Small steps for prevention

Man swimming

For something so small, the prostate can cause big problems. This gland, which is roughly the size of a walnut, is an essential part of a man's urinary and reproductive systems.

But it's not uncommon for men to suffer from prostate-related issues, especially as they age. In fact, age is one of the biggest risk factors for some conditions, including an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer

While you can't turn back the clock or change your race or family history — significant risk factors for prostate cancer — Christopher Coogan, MD, a urologist at Rush, says there are some relatively simple steps you can take to keep your prostate healthy and lower your risk of developing serious problems down the road. 

Engage in exercise. 

A daily routine of at least 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity can help reduce your risk for prostate diseases by 10 to 30 percent.

One reason why: Being active can help stabilize your hormone levels (when uncontrolled, these levels can become elevated and lead to prostate cancer).

"Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight," Coogan adds, "which is important because there's a proven link between obesity and prostate diseases." 

Think zinc. 

The prostate gland stores zinc, which not only prevents prostate enlargement but may also help to shrink a prostate gland that’s already swollen.

Make sure that you're getting the recommended daily allowance — 15 milligrams per day — of zinc through foods such as pumpkin seeds (in the shell), oysters, nuts and beans, or by taking a zinc supplement. 

Eat more tomato sauce.

Research has shown that eating large quantities of cooked or processed tomato products — including tomato paste, spaghetti sauce and ketchup — may be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

The reason appears to be lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that gives tomatoes their rich red color. One study found that the risk of developing prostate cancer, especially aggressive prostate cancer, decreased with increasing blood lycopene levels.

Cooked or processed tomatoes pack a greater lycopene punch than raw tomatoes, and cooking the tomatoes in a healthy monosaturated fat (such as olive oil) helps the body to better absorb lycopene. 

Add selenium-rich foods to your daily menu.

Research also suggests that the trace mineral selenium can help reduce prostate cancer risk.

Foods that contain selenium include the following:

  • Eggs
  • Cashews
  • Brazil nuts
  • Garlic
  • Wheat germ
  • Tuna, shellfish and other seafood
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Sesame and sunflower seeds
  • Beef liver and kidneys 

Cut back on the fats.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation notes that a diet high in fat can cause the body to produce fewer antioxidants, which are essential to maintaining a healthy prostate. Opt mainly for lean proteins such as chicken and fish instead of consuming large quantities of fatty red meats.

But go easy on the grilling, Coogan advises, since the carcinogens found in grilled and charred proteins can inflame the prostate. Try baking, broiling, poaching or steaming instead. 

Most important — get screened.

Most prostate cancers are silent, meaning they don't have symptoms until they're more advanced. So even if you don't experience symptoms of prostate problems, it's crucial to have regular physical exams and screenings to check for prostate cancer. 

According to Coogan, men with a family history of prostate cancer should start being screened at 40 years old. Black men are also at higher risk and should begin being screened at 40, while white men with no family history of prostate cancer should begin screening at age 50. 

"The single most important thing I tell my patients is to get regular screenings," Coogan says. "We want to catch the cancer at the earliest, most treatable stage."