Monday, August 06, 2007

A Powerful Approach to Prostate Health

Most men hardly know they have a prostate until they reach middle age, when prostate health becomes a serious issue. Prostate enlargement is found in 50 percent of American men in their sixties, and up to 90 percent of men in their seventies and eighties. Worse, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death by cancer in men, with about 80 percent of all cases of prostate cancer occurring in men over sixty-five.

Even though the prostate seems to be an older man's health problem, these imbalances begin much earlier in life. The good news is that most prostate problems can be prevented by making simple lifestyle and dietary changes to restore balance. In this interview, our ayurvedic expert provides an in-depth analysis of prostate health from the perspective of Maharishi Ayurveda, and gives practical and effective advice for keeping the prostate healthy throughout life.

Q: Let's start at the beginning. What exactly is the prostate gland, and what does it do?
A: The prostate is part of the male reproductive system. The interesting thing is that even though it is called a gland, it is actually an organ made up of 70 percent glandular and thirty percent fibro-muscular tissue. About the size and shape of a walnut, it is located directly beneath the bladder and surrounds part of the urethra, the tube that drains the bladder. The prostate secretes a thin, milky substance contained in semen that protects and nourishes the sperm and lubricates the urethra. In ayurvedic terms, the prostate's secretion supports the flow of Shukra Dhatu, the reproductive tissue.

Q: How would you know if you had a prostate problem?
A: One major symptom is prostate enlargement, which is caused by imbalances that accumulate over time but become manifest with age. The initial symptoms include excessive urination at night, a weak urine stream, stopping and starting while urinating, a feeling that the bladder is never empty, difficulty in starting to urinate, and dribbling at the end of urination.
If a man has these symptoms, he should consult his doctor immediately. Often, when the symptoms are mild, the physician will say, "Wait and watch. This is the ideal time to get help from Maharishi Ayurveda, when the problem is mild to moderate. At this point, there is still an opportunity to correct the imbalance that has caused the problem. Of course aging is the main etiological factor, or cause of the problem, but Maharishi Ayurveda also identifies the lifestyle or dietary factors that act as a trigger, and if unchecked, can turn a mild problem into a serious one.

Q: Every man would naturally want to keep the problem from becoming serious. What are some of the causes, or triggers, of prostate problems?
A: There are several. One is overuse of Shukra Dhatu, or overuse of the sexual organs. Another is lack of adequate fluids in the body, due to not drinking enough water during the day. Habitually suppressing the natural urge to urinate also can, over time, cause the urine to become more concentrated and, in turn, irritates the prostate.

Drinking too much alcohol or caffeinated beverages can also cause an imbalance. Alcohol, for instance, creates an abnormal increase in urine production, which aggravates Pitta and Vata doshas. Another cause is taking too many over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants. These can cause the muscle that controls urine flow to tighten, making urination difficult.
Even your job can be a source of imbalance. If you have to sit for long periods of time without taking a break or stretching, this can create an imbalance in the reproductive area of the body. Not getting daily exercise, or eating a diet that creates impurities (ama) in the body, are other causes of prostate problem. If your diet does not contain spices that purify the urine daily (such as turmeric, cumin and fennel) that can also cause toxins to build up that lead to imbalances or infection.

Finally, if you don't have a healthy daily routine, for instance if you watch TV late at night or for other reasons don't sleep enough, or if you don't eat meals on time or your routine is very irregular, that can also cause ama to build up and disturb the immune system.

Q: It sounds like a wide number of factors can cause prostate problems.
A: Yes, they do sound like they are widely disparate on the surface, but actually there is an underlying principle that ties them all together.
One main factor is ama. Ama refers to the sticky impurities that are created when digestion is weak and food is not digested completely. Now, aging itself can create some weakening of the digestion, but most ama is created by poor dietary and lifestyle habits already mentioned -- eating foods that are old and heavy or eating meals at irregular times of the day.
If this kind of diet becomes a habit, then ama eventually mixes with the nutrient fluid (Rasa Dhatu) and even the blood (Rakta Dhatu). The urine, which is part of the body's purification system, also becomes overloaded with ama and thus more prone to infection. It becomes a fertile ground for bacteria, and can create additional problems of urinary tract infections, and that impacts the prostate. Weakened immunity also creates a problem for the prostate.
If the ama problem is not corrected, and ama reaches the muscle and fat tissue, then it creates an additional factor -- imbalance in cell production. This, compounded with testosterone levels declining due to age (or due to overuse of the sexual organs), is a major factor in prostate enlargement.

If the person also has an imbalance in Shleshaka Kapha (the subdosha of Kapha that governs lubrication of the joints, body fluids, and moisture balance in the skin), and ama is accumulating in the body fluids due to dietary mistakes, then Shleshaka Kapha and ama gets mixed with urine, creating a more irritated situation and further weakening the immune system.
Also, when Shleshaka Kapha is mixed with ama, it creates shleshma (a sticky, toxic mixture of Shleshaka Kapha and ama ). This condition is a common factor in imbalanced cell production. When combined with the problems of ama spreading to the tissues mentioned earlier, then the cell production becomes abnormal, and the prostate grows abnormally large.

Maharishi Ayurveda tries to support health on all fronts: by balancing Apana Vata, the subdosha of Vata related to the downward flow of energy such as occurs with urination, stopping ama from being produced, strengthening the immune system, and cleansing the urine and nutrient fluid, and cleansing the blood, muscle and fat tissues of ama, and cleansing Shleshaka Kapha of amavisha.

Q: It certainly sounds like Maharishi Ayurveda takes a holistic approach to prostate health and functioning. Can you tell us why age is such a critical factor in prostate health?
A: Again, this comes back to the doshas. Vata dosha increases as we age. The later part of life is actually known as the Vata Kala (or Vata time of life) in Maharishi Ayurveda. Because Vata dosha is irregular, dry, and moving by nature, it can cause the digestion to become more irregular. This contributes to more ama being produced and spreading to the tissues.

Also, you have to consider that the prostate is located in the area of the body that is governed by Apana Vata, which includes the colon, lower abdomen, elimination and reproductive areas. Because the prostate is governed by Apana Vata, anything that aggravates Apana Vata creates pressure on the prostate.

Not everyone has to have problems with Apana Vata, of course, and some people will maintain balanced Vata even in old age. But if the person has been keeping an irregular routine, eating foods that are difficult to digest, and sitting for long periods of time at their job, the stage is already set. With the added factor of aging then the downward flow of energy in the body will become obstructed, affecting the organs in the reproductive system, including the prostate. As the flow of energy and nutrients to the area gets blocked by ama, and the flow of impurities out of the area gets obstructed (as found in more concentrated urine), the prostate gets weaker and more and more imbalanced.

Q: So far we've only been talking about enlarged prostate. But is there a connection here to even more serious problems?
A: Yes. You see, initially, the imbalance in Shleshaka Kapha, called amavisha, causes enlargement of the prostate. But if the imbalance becomes more serious, and the person never adopts an ama -reducing diet or makes lifestyle changes to create more balance, then the common kind of amavisha becomes an even more toxic type of ama called amavisha. Then the imbalance has become very serious. In other words, what if ama continues to be created, and mixes with Shleshaka Kapha, blood, muscle and fat tissue, and that occurs conjointly for a long period of time? If the person is not taking corrective measures to dissolve the ama, pacify Apana Vata, and restore balance to the entire area, then amavisha, the most toxic stage ama, spreads and really takes hold. Amavisha breeds free radicals and obstructs the natural flow of intelligence between cells, breaking down the connection between nature's intelligence and that area. This is how cancer tends to begin -- when the cell forgets its own nature and starts to grow uncontrollably.

Q: That is certainly a scenario we all want to avoid. So then an enlarged prostate or prostate imbalance could lead to cancer if the situation is not checked?
A: Yes, and that is why the doctor recommends that you keep checking, and keep testing on a yearly basis once you have an enlarged prostate. It's also why you should see a doctor immediately if you notice any of the symptoms that we mentioned earlier. But as you wait and watch, you can be using the Maharishi Ayurveda approach, which is preventive and holistic in nature.

The role of Maharishi Ayurveda is really prevention -- ideally to prevent a problem from starting in the first place, or to prevent a mild problem from becoming worse.

Q: What about stress, does stress play a role?
A: Stress can also create some problems. Because Vata dosha governs the nervous system, stress has a greater impact on Vata dosha, and therefore on anyone who is entering the Vata time of life. For instance, if you have a job that requires overuse of the mind, or jars the senses, this can aggravate Prana Vata, the subdosha of Vata that governs the brain, head, chest, respiration, sensory perception and the mind. When Prana Vata is out of balance, it easily brings the other aspects of Vata out of balance, including Apana Vata, creating disturbances in the prostate as well as other parts of the body.

Q: What are some dietary and behavioral recommendations to correct these problems?
A: First of all, it's important to understand that the right diet is very necessary to improve the health of the prostate.In choosing the right diet, there are several factors to consider. First of all, it's a good idea to eat Pitta pacifying foods, because the problem involves an imbalance in the blood tissue, which is governed by Pitta dosha. But at the same time, Kapha dosha must also be pacified, because Shleshaka Kapha is involved. And Vata dosha must also be brought into balance because this disease occurs during the Vata stage of life, and the prostate is located in the area governed by Apana Vata.

So prostate problems involve the combination of Pitta, Kapha, and Vata -- as without the Kapha imbalance there would be no abnormal growth, without the Pitta imbalance there would be no inflammation, and without the Vata imbalance there would be no discomfort. So all three doshas are involved, and therefore all the dietary and behavioral recommendations have to take all three doshas into account.

Q: What sort of diet would pacify all three doshas?
A: In balancing the three doshas simultaneously it's important to avoid any extremes. You don't want to eat anything that is too cold, too spicy, too dry, too bitter, too sweet, or too salty, as any taste taken in excess can create an imbalance in one of the doshas. You'll want to eat a diet that is moderate in every way.
To keep from aggravating Vata dosha, don't eat foods that are too dry and lack nourishment, such as too many crackers or dry cereals. Avoid long, leafy greens such as chard or spinach when they are cooked whole, as they are hard to digest and obstruct the natural movement of the intestine. If you chop the chard and spinach into small pieces and cook them well with spices, then they are easy to digest, help elimination and immunity, and do not aggravate Vata dosha. Avoid eating ice-cold drinks or cold foods such as cold salads, as these aggravate Vata dosha.
for Pitta, avoid extremely spicy foods that heat the blood tissue (such as hot chili peppers and cayenne found in some Mexican and Indian foods). Too much horseradish, garlic, onions and mustard seeds are other examples. Vinegar is another food that pollutes the blood tissue, and it is found in mustard, ketchup, salad dressings, and pickles.

To keep from aggravating Kapha dosha, avoid cold and heavy foods such as fried foods, ice cream, and other rich desserts. Aged cheeses and yogurt should also be avoided, as they are heavy and difficult to digest.

Q: That covers the extremes to be avoided. What are some foods to improve prostate health?
A: For prostate health, a diet of warm, cooked, easily digestible, light yet nourishing foods are best. Organic vegetables cooked in mild spices, whole grains, light proteins such as mung dhal soups, and sweet, juicy fruits will nourish the body and pacify all three doshas.
It's important to cook with mild spices that improve digestion, burn away ama, and pacify Vata dosha, but don't create heat in the blood tissue. Include a mixture of fennel, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and small amounts of turmeric (see recipe in box). Small amounts of black pepper and small amounts of fresh ginger also are healthy for maintaining prostate health and balance.
You may think that just adding these spices to your diet may not be that significant, but they are very powerful. Let me just explain a small amount of research on these common spices.
Turmeric is strongly anti-inflammatory, and intensifies the anti-cancer activity of other phyto-nutrients. Ginger and turmeric both have been found to have cancer-preventing qualities.

Turmeric is one of nature's most powerful antioxidants, has more DNA protective qualities than Vitamin E and betacarotene. It helps clear away amavisha, the breeding ground of free radicals, thus supporting the liver in its effort to clear itself of free radicals. By stopping the production of ama and amavisha, it balances Ranjaka Pitta, thus purifying the blood and urine.

Black pepper is another common spice whose effects in the diet have been well documented. Research published in Cancer Letter in the August 16, 1993 issue reported that 20 days after adding black pepper to the diet, the subjects' liver detoxification systems were strengthened, aiding in purification of the blood tissue and enhancing the overall immune system.

The mixture of black pepper, long pepper and ginger (trikatu) is famous in ayurveda, because it is the most effective combination of spices to prevent ama and amavisha, and to clear them away. You can add small amounts of black pepper and ginger to your foods to help clear the channels and micro-channels of the body, which carry away waste and supply oxygen and nutrients to the cells.

Q: That's fascinating, how helpful the right spices are for prostate health. What kinds of vegetables do you recommend?
A: Squashes cooked with these mild spices are excellent for prostate health. The best squashes for prostate health are the types that are white inside, such as zucchini or loki (for more information on buying and cooking loki, visit the recipe section of our web site). Avoid the dark yellow ones such as pumpkin; however, squashes with a mildly yellow color are fine.
Asparagus is another vegetable that is recommended, because it helps support balanced hormones. Daikon is a mild type of white radish root that purifies the urine. Because it is spicy, it should be cooked with other vegetables more as a seasoning than as the main vegetable.

You could combine it with squashes such as zucchini or shred it and add it to mung dhal soup.
Light dairy products such as milk, lassi (a drink made with one part freshly-made yogurt and three parts water), and occasional fresh cheeses such as panir or cottage cheese should be included in the diet, but avoid the hard-to-digest aged cheeses, such as Monterey Jack, mozzarella, cheddar, brie, blue cheese, and Gruyere.As for grains, quinoa is best because it is rich in zinc. Zinc supports seminal health, and because seminal health and prostate health are connected, zinc also supports prostate health.

Q: That doesn't seem so complicated after all. It seems like the whole idea is to avoid extremes that can aggravate the doshas.
A: Yes, and to eat wholesome, fresh foods that won't create ama. It's important to avoid the foods that create ama or impurities in the body because they are lifeless and hard to digest. These include canned, frozen, packaged and processed foods, as well as leftovers. Buy your fruits and vegetables fresh, and if possible, buy organic foods. Non-organic foods contain pesticide and chemical residues that can irritate the blood tissue and pollute the body with toxins. This, in turn, overloads the elimination systems such as the urine and irritates the prostate. Warm, cooked, light, and mildly spiced foods, on the other hand, are easy to digest and thus help cleanse the body of ama.

Q: What about lifestyle, doesn't that affect the doshas as well?
A: Absolutely. Here, it's the same principle: avoid extremes in lifestyle and routine. Moderate habits and daily routine help remove ama and pacify all three doshas.

Lifestyle habits that aggravate Vata dosha include eating at different times of the day from one day to the next. You'll want to eat your meals at the same time every day, and eat your largest meal at noon, when the sun is at its zenith, as that is when your digestive powers are also the strongest. Take time to eat nourishing, appetizing meals. Avoid staying up late (past ten o'clock), as night wakefulness aggravates all the doshas, but especially Vata. Go to bed at the same time every night, before ten o'clock, and rise before six o'clock in the morning. Sleep is necessary to pacify Apana Vata and all aspects of Vata. It is also important in enhancing the immune hormones, eliminates ama and creates more ojas, the product of good digestion that promotes lightness, bliss, immunity, health, and longevity.

Be sure to exercise regularly, and be sure that the exercise you choose is suitable for your age and body type. Daily ayurvedic massage, called abhyanga, is another important part of the daily routine. You can do it in the morning to help improve circulation and digestion, remove ama from the body, tone the muscles, and increase energy.

Avoid too much mental pressure, such as a job that requires you to work long hours. Take time to enjoy life, and to maintain healthy relationships with your family and friends. Practice a technique to reduce stress, such as the Transcendental Meditation® technique. Dozens of research studies show that it reduces stress, increases inner happiness and creates more balance in the mind, body, and emotions. It is an important part of the daily routine to eliminate mental and physical ama and to balance all three doshas.

Q: This is certainly a holistic plan for improving the health of the prostate. The beautiful thing about such a prevention program is that your overall health and vitality will improve, and you'll start feeling younger. Are there any specific recommendations for men who are already feeling some mild symptoms of prostate problems.

A: Yes, here are some tips, which also summarizes what we just talked about:
Drink lots of water throughout the day, in between meals. This will keep the urine from becoming too concentrated. If you add some herbs to the water, it will flush out toxins, dissolve ama in the blood tissue and help purify the urine. Here's a recipe: Boil two quarts of water and put the water in a thermos flask. Add three leaves of holy basil, 1/3 t. fennel seed, 1/4 t. coriander seed, and six white pumpkin seeds or six fresh cucumber seeds. Keep drinking this water throughout the day, but stop drinking it after 7:00 p.m. Stay away from fluids at night if you have a prostate problem, as a full bladder at night can cause pressure on the prostate and disturb your sleep with the need to get up frequently to urinate.

Each time you urinate, take the necessary time to empty your bladder completely. Because the urethra (the passageway through which the urine drains from the body) is already narrow, when there is some enlargement of the prostate, the urinary channel becomes even narrower. If you are in too much of a hurry, all of the urine might not be drained from the bladder. This is not a good thing, because the urine becomes more concentrated if it is not drained from the bladder each time you urinate. So take the time to empty the bladder completely.

Avoid drinking alcohol, because it creates imbalances in the blood tissue, as does caffeine. Both of these create abnormal urine production and irritate the bladder as well.

If you have to sit all day at your job, take short breaks frequently and try to stretch or take a short walk. This will restore the normal flow of energy, blood, and nutrient fluid to the prostate area.
When the weather is cold, take care to keep your head, neck, and body warm. If your body temperature drops, it leads to urine retention, which aggravates the prostate. So keep your body temperature in a moderate range.

Make sure that your bowel movements are regular. Constipation creates an obstruction in Apana Vata, in turn creating pressure on the prostate, increasing ama in the blood tissues, and creating excessive dryness in the whole area. To help with regular elimination, try having a stewed apple in the morning for breakfast with stewed figs, raisins, or prunes.

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