Your prostate health changes as you age. During adolescence, as testosterone levels increase, your prostate grows to roughly walnut size. The prostate gland secretes seminal fluid for supporting sperm flow and is crucial to reproductive health.
A second growth period begins after the age of 45, and the prostate continues to slowly enlarge throughout the rest of a man’s life. When the enlargement becomes significant, the condition is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Some men with BPH have no symptoms, but for others, prostate enlargement causes difficulty urinating and other annoying urinary symptoms.
In this article, we discuss prostate health changes as they relate to prostate enlargement and BPH. We share what every man should know about his prostate as he ages.
Is an enlarged prostate dangerous?
Simply put: no. In general, mild to moderate symptoms of BPH are not dangerous. BPH is a benign condition, and it does not cause prostate cancer.
The urethra – the tube through which the bladder empties – runs right through the middle of the prostate. An enlarged prostate compresses the urethra and can lead to a weakening of the bladder. This makes it more difficult to initiate urination and completely empty the bladder. Common symptoms are related to urination and include a weak urine stream, an urgent or frequent need to urinate, and getting up several times at night to urinate. If the bladder cannot empty fully, the risk of urinary tract infections and bladder stones can increase.
BPH can worsen with age. Therefore, men who are experiencing symptoms should speak to their healthcare provider sooner rather than later. Left untreated, kidney damage can occur over time from the increased pressure on the bladder and restricted urination.
How do I know if I have an enlarged prostate?
Half of all men between the ages of 51 and 60 (and 90 percent of men over age 80) have BPH. Despite its prevalence, many men report they have no symptoms. It is important for men to monitor the presence of symptoms and to discuss their prostate health and urinary tract health with their physicians at annual checkups.
Your physician may have you answer a symptom questionnaire: the American Urological Association’s BPH Symptom Score Index. In addition, he or she may conduct tests and exams such as a digital rectal exam (DRE) or prostate-specific antigen (PSA) enzyme blood test. A low PSA score can be a good indicator of prostate health. If diagnosed, treatment can range from adjusting diet and lifestyle factors to the use of medications.
Can I reduce my risk?
Unfortunately, diet and lifestyle changes cannot prevent the natural process of prostate enlargement as men age. However, there are modifiable risk factors such as obesity and lack of exercise that increase the likelihood of developing symptoms. Harvard University’s Health Professionals Follow-up Study of 30,000 men found that those who were more physically active had fewer BPH symptoms. Even low to moderate-intensity exercise like walking was beneficial.
Losing weight and keeping weight under control by eating a diet low in saturated fat, added sugars and salt, and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber can help. Reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and watching portion sizes are important practices.
In addition to diet and exercise, stress management and taking the time to completely empty the bladder when urinating can help. Moreover, avoiding drinking (especially caffeinated drinks) before bedtime can also help with symptom control. By maintaining a balanced, healthy lifestyle, men can better manage BPH.
The Final Word
BPH will likely impact you as you age. However, maintaining a healthy weight through moderate dietary intake and regular physical activity, combined with stress management, can help you manage, and possibly prevent symptom development. These practices may also help with the prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. In addition to your prostate health, make your overall wellbeing your number one priority.