The prostate gland is a small, hollow sac that is located just beneath the bladder in the male body. It is only about the size of a walnut and weighs between 0.25 oz. and 0.56 oz. on average. The prostate surrounds the urethra which is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the exterior or it carries semen. The outside layers of the prostate gland contain large amounts of connective tissue and smooth muscle cells. The prostate gland is actually made up of between 30 to 50 much smaller glands which secrete an alkaline fluid that has important physiological functions (1).
The prostate gland is a small but very important organ that sits just beneath the bladder. It is strategically located surrounding the urethra.
The normal function of the prostate gland
The many smaller glands that make up the prostate secrete a watery fluid which is one of the parts of semen. This fluid contains sugars and a little bit of protein but consists mostly of water. The function of this fluid is to nourish sperm cells and help their motility (2).
Without this fluid, the sperm cells would die in the harsh acidic environment of the vagina. Needless to say, the prostate is vital to reproductive health because if the constituents of the seminal fluid are incorrect, there is an increased chance of failure to conceive.
The normal function of the prostate is highly dependent on androgens - also known as male sex hormones. These hormones are responsible for the growth and differentiation (modifying structure to suit function) of prostate cells (3).
The normal function of the prostate gland is to secrete fluids that contribute towards semen formation. This is a vital function of male fertility. This function relies strongly on the balance of male sex hormones in the body.
Effect of age on prostate health
As men age, the prostate continues to grow. This could occur for a variety of reasons but the main one that is being explored is the change in hormone levels as men age (4). Whatever the causes, there has definitely been a strong association between age and prostate growth. Prostate growth has two main outcomes. The first one is benign prostatic hyperplasia, which is essentially a non-harmful enlarging of the prostate. The second outcome is prostate cancer (5). These phenomena occur most likely because of cell aging in the prostate gland. Cell aging happens because of a build-up of reactive oxygen species. Reactive oxygen species are unstable oxygen molecules which received only one electron in cellular metabolism. This is a completely natural occurrence and the body is able to combat it for some time. But as time goes on more and more reactive oxygen species build-up and so they go on to damage DNA, the cell membrane and its proteins. Another reason why cells age is because parts of the DNA get shorter with each cellular division. With each of these phenomena occurring, the cells of the prostate gland change dramatically over time and this predisposes them to hyperplasia (6).
The normal metabolism of the cell produces toxic chemicals over time. As time goes on, this phenomenon causes our cells and our tissues to age. This occurrence is what predisposes the prostate to some form of hyperplasia.
When things go wrong
Eventually, as a result of aging, the cells of the prostate begin to malfunction and divide rapidly. This causes the prostate to enlarge in size. This is known as hyperplasia. In the case of benign prostatic hyperplasia, the prostate gland, which surrounds the urethra, now blocks the urethra and wreaks havoc on the urinary system. The increased compression of the urethra causes difficulty in initiating and maintaining urination. As a result, urine remains in the bladder and builds up. This causes the frequent urge to urinate (7).
Prostate cancer arises from much more serious damage to the cell DNA. The damage that occurs to the DNA causes important proteins to cease being produced, and so the steps that normally prevent the cell from making the damage worse no longer exist. This causes a snowball effect where one damaged cell can produce a whole population of damaged cells. This is what is known as a tumor. Cells in a tumor can even break into blood vessels and other organs. This is called metastasis and once it occurs, the prognosis is quite poor (8).
Prostate cancer is highly relevant because it is one of the leading causes of male cancer-related deaths. It is difficult to detect prostate cancer until it is too late unless regular check-ups are conducted.
The two main conditions that affect the prostate gland, especially with age, are benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostate cancer. Each of these is caused by some overgrowth of cells in the prostate.
Important points to remember for prostate health
The first step in maintaining the health of any organ in the body is to keep a good diet and reasonable exercise plan. A good diet will provide the right kind of nutrients to the prostate cells to keep their normal functioning for as long as possible. Most good diets are high in antioxidants, which significantly reduce cell aging.
If you happen to develop benign prostatic hyperplasia, there are many ways to manage and treat it. There are pharmaceutical drugs available which reduce the enlargement of the prostate gland but these drugs often have some unwanted side effects. Another option is to take natural supplements which have been designed specifically to combat benign prostatic hyperplasia.
The most important thing for a man to watch out for as he ages is the development of prostate cancer. Previously, checking for prostate cancer would require quite an uncomfortable physical examination by a doctor. Although this is still the best method to determine if there is a tumor in the prostate gland, there are less invasive ways to check these days. One of the ways is by testing levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA). The key to minimizing the spread and damage that prostate cancer causes is to catch it as early as possible. This would require regular check-ups.
In all cases, looking out for your prostate health is very important and actually not very difficult to do. Looking out for your prostate health today allows you to have an enjoyable and healthy future.