Prostate glands and PSA in both men and women

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The prostate is a squishy gland wrapped around the urinary tract in men, right after the bladder. It is about the size of an apricot or ping pong ball and is responsible for producing the fluid that nourishes, protects, and transports sperm.

This fluid contains zinc, citrate, and fructose. It also contains something called prostate-specific antigen, or PSA. PSA is an enzyme. Enzymes can speed up chemical reactions, by up to a million times, that combine or break down compounds, such as those found in food.

In this case, PSA in men helps keep the sperm fluid thin enough to easily swim in. It also helps break down any thick mucus a sperm may encounter during its journey.

Despite the common idea that women do not have a prostate, there is some scientific thought that they do have something similar. There are two glands in females adjoining the urinary tract that seem somewhat like the male prostate.

These two glands are referred to as the skene or paraurethral glands, informally as the female prostate. They have been shown to also be a source of the PSA enzyme and produce a fluid that provides lubrication during sexual activity.

Small amounts of PSA can be found in both men and women in the blood. Evaluated levels of PSA are used as a valuable screening tool for the presence of cancer, inflammation, or enlargement of the prostate in men.

Some evidence is showing that PSA is not prostate specific, but also generated in breast tissue in women. While very low compared to men, pregnant women will have elevated levels of PSA. This enzyme can be found in the amniotic fluid surrounding a developing baby in the uterus.

Some studies are showing rising levels associated with particular cysts, tumors, and cancer in women.

Though there are different conditions that can increase PSA, high levels and rapidly rising levels need to be evaluated. A physical exam showing some enlargement of the prostate could also indicate a need for further investigation, including biopsy or ultrasound.

If you find yourself having difficulty peeing or a more frequent need to urinate, especially at night, these could be signs of something serious and should not be ignored. There are many effective medical treatments, depending upon the specific prostate issue you are having, that can be considered including surgery and prescriptive medications.

I think avoiding or delaying potential problems should also be an important consideration. It’s not always clear what causes issues with the prostate, but there are some contributor’s that could be addressed.

Bacterial imbalances in the gut and urinary tract have been shown to correlate with the risk of infection in the prostate. Altered levels of adrenal hormones could be a factor, either due to stress or increased anxiety.

Environmental toxins, inflammation, oxidation, and autoimmunity have each been associated with prostate health.

Keeping your gut in good health, reducing exposure to toxins, getting good sleep, and eating a low inflammatory diet can all be supportive. A stress reducing lifestyle and relaxing activities are a must. Common approaches to supplementation include saw palmetto, stinging nettle, pygeum africanum, lycopene, pomegranate, green tea, and pumpkin seed. But their effectiveness is still being debated.

My preference is to optimize our bodies health starting with the foundations. This includes a whole food, nutrient dense diet, not too high in protein and an active lifestyle with healthy weight. Then I like to supplement with probiotics, vitamin D & K, magnesium, B vitamins, trace minerals, and omega 3’s.

In some extreme cases, I’ve heard of a plant based diet, without dairy, having a positive effect. A few compounds specific to prostate health that I find interesting enough to consider include boswellia, curcumin, pectin, sulforaphane, and quercetin. Come on down if you’d like to hear about these.

Scott Porter, a functional medicine pharmacist, is the director of the Center for Functional Nutrition at Sandpoint Super Drug and can be reached at scott@sandpointsuperdrug.com.

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