By RJ Johnson
When people born with a prostate reach a certain age, they must start considering that part of their annual check-up will include a regular examination of that area. It is a subject that is often used as a punchline in movies, and the reality is that it is something all of us that have a prostate need to be concerned with.
By the numbers, one in nine people that have a prostate will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives. Besides skin cancer, it is the most common cancer in American men. In 2019, the estimates are that there will be about 174,650 new cases of prostate cancer, and 31,620 deaths as a result. While 60 percent of cases are diagnosed in men over 65, it is something that all need to be concerned with.
Worldwide, people over the age of 50 are strongly advised to start having discussions with their healthcare provider about screening for prostate cancer. For any person that has an immediate family member who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer younger than 65, that age drops to 45. If you have more than one first degree relative that has received the diagnosis, that age drops to 40.
The main job of the prostate is to produce the thick, milky white fluid that becomes part of semen, the liquid that is ejaculated during sexual activity. While the size of the gland, comparable to a walnut of golf ball, isn’t that impressive compared to the rest of the body, it can be problematic. When issues start to occur, it can cause major issues even before the word ‘cancer’ starts coming into play.
When bodily problems in this area begin to occur the first things affected are urination and sexual function. Prostatitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia are, or BPH, two causes of inflammation in this area of the body. Both can cause urination problems as well as painful ejaculation and pain in the perineum, or the area between the scrotum and rectum.
Of course, no health article would be complete without talking about diet. We are lucky to live in an area where fish is not only delicious, but readily available. Studies show that by reducing your consumption of red meats and processed meats, you can enjoy health benefits especially in the area of overall prostate health. Fatty acid, also known as Omega-3, readily found in salmon, can reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer. Five servings of fruits and vegetables every day is also recommended. While it may be sometimes difficult to arrange this sort of diet in the winter, the Land of the Midnight Sun has an advantage over everywhere else during our growing season when we can pick up organic, Alaskan grown fare easily at Farmer’s markets and even corporate grocery stores.
Staying active is also a way to better prevent problems as we age. Questionnaires completed by 30,000 men in the Health Professionals follow up study found an inverse relationship between physical activity and those that suffered from BPH. Even as we begin to lose our long summer days, there are many ways for us to stay active and prevent issues regarding our prostate health.
For many in Alaska, winter is not our favorite time of year, and that could be why events like Zumba classes and yoga are so popular year-round. Yoga is particularly effective in better health concerning all areas of prostate and colon health. A 2011 study showed that yogic practices improved muscle strength and reduced pelvic tension that can improve bladder control. The same study showed that yoga activity can reduce stress which can lead to symptoms of BPH worsening. There are several local yoga instructors, such as Carrie Polacek, who have a medical background in addition to her yoga training that incorporate both into their instruction. For Polacek, her classes combine the medical knowledge for better overall health, as well as continued strength in all other aspects of life as well. At the Arctic Recreation Center on International Airport Blvd. she looks to help her students with any current issues as well as preventing future problems. “The body and spirit are all part of the overall health that I want my students to be in touch with,” Polacek said.
When the long winter nights approach, we locals rely on our coffee addictions in order to keep us going. One added benefit is that our caffeine addictions could be linked to a reduced risk of fatal prostate cancer. According to a 2014 review of clinical studies, drinking four to five cups of coffee every day can lower your risk of fatal and high-grade prostate cancers. Regardless of how much you drink overall, you can reduce your risk of fatal prostate cancer by 11 percent for every three cups of coffee that you drink.
Even the way that your coffee is prepared can have surprising health benefits. Some of the cancer-fighting agents that are present when you are getting your dose of java could be getting trapped in a paper filter, but present at a greater rate in boiled coffee. It may be time to ditch the coffee machine and get yourself a French press, which has been shown to have higher health benefits overall. Several local coffee shops offer versions of boiled coffee that you can experiment with to find your favorite style.
The final benefit to being Alaskan while talking about prostate health is the legalization of cannabis products. CBD or cannabidiol, is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of marijuana. While it is a component of the plant, it does not cause a high, and has several health factors that users may benefit from. Some users may consume CBD for the stress relief factor while others know that it has been shown to be highly effective in reducing seizures.
Both CBD and medical cannabis containing THC have been shown to reduce tissue inflammation that can be caused from prostatitis, BPH, and prostate cancer. Local products like ACE, Alaska Cannabis Exchange, CBD oils are a great way to start exploring this alternative to western medicine.
For many the conversation about prostate health can be an uncomfortable one. Between the awkward checks at the doctor and the taboo conversations about that area of the body it can be a tough subject to bring up. With preventative measures and more openness about alternative health practices in general in can ease the burden on many before it is too late. For those of us with a prostate it is something we start thinking about, long before we start talking about it. Perhaps it’s time for it to become a more regular part of our health conversations.