By Karta Purkh Singh
As men, we hear a lot of advice about our prostates, but few of us understand why we even need one in the first place, or how miserable we will become if ours doesn’t function quite right. Unfortunately, most aging men will find out.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) involves by a slow, continual enlargement of the prostate gland. As the gland swells, it compresses the urethra, obstructing urine flow, resulting in weakened urination, night urinary urging, urine retention and pain. About 90 percent of men older than 85 have some evidence of BPH, but only half of them will have painful prostate enlargement.
The pelvic area is a particularly critical area in which it is necessary to keep the body’s energy balanced. (The other critical body areas are the heart and the head.) Prostate problems, which occur with aging, happen during the time of life when the air tattva is dominant. BPH is an udavarta disorder, one involving energy that is flowing in the reverse direction. In BPH, apana in the large intestine and genitals rises upwards, leaving prostate energy diminished.
Yoga maintains that overindulgence in sex will downgrade prostate health. (This will vary with each person.) Also, we should never suppress natural urges (yawning, belching, gas, etc.). Doing so will aggravate air tattva and contribute to udavarta. In particular, habitually ignoring the urge to urinate can irritate the prostate. Other contributing factors include excesses in physical labor; fasting; pungent, bitter, and astringent foods; alcohol; and meat. Clinical observations show that BPH is becoming more common in Japan. Those who consume more meat and milk appear to be at greater risk. A Finnish study from 2000 found that meat consumption increased lower urinary tract symptoms (hesitancy, incomplete emptying, incontinence, nighttime leakage, and daytime frequency), and vegetable intake decreased these symptoms. In fact, The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada say that vegetarians have lower rates of prostate cancer.
Ayurveda sees BPH not so much as a problem in itself (of course it can make a man miserable), but a sign of a much more serious syndrome. Apana reversal is a big problem, and will eventually bring all bodily processes to a grinding halt. It is the forerunner to a cascade of problems that develop in a predictable way. It goes like this. The apana, blocked from flowing downward, ascends into the liver, creating an imbalance in the air tattva of the liver. This draws ama from the gut into the liver, and later into the blood. This hot, disordered blood accumulates in areas of weakened tissues, which can be anywhere, but can include the disordered apana. As the ama accumulates in the urogenital tract, it has no way out, as the apana that would normally assist it to exit is now reversed. Inflammation ensues. Certain men are more susceptible to the collected effects of this problem than others, but the sum total of these disruptions of the doshas often settles in the prostate and blooms as BPH. A little more crow pose, anyone? (Crow pose strengthens the proper downward movement of apana, so it helps “drain” the congested energy from the prostate, reducing BPH.)
In general, udavarta conditions are treated with remedies to assist vata back into its proper directions of movement. The herbs haritaki, asafetida, and calamus generally balance this condition.
Any given case of BPH can involve any of the body energies in any proportion. The boggy, wet, swollen prostate is a water tattva excess. The inflamed tissue is a manifestation of fire tattva. The blockages and reversed energy flow comes from air tattva. Follow a diet appropriate to the offending tattva.
A multipronged natural healing approach is likely to be successful. Maintaining the quality and quantity of the reproductive fluid (shukra) will stabilize the testosterone level and sexual desire. Yoga will also focus on promoting the unobstructed flow of urine, easing the pressure on the genitourinary tract, upping immune function, and purifying the urine to avoid infections and preserving the normal size of the prostate. The prostate is sensitive to the accumulation of ama, so detoxifying programs are necessary to prevent problems. Using herbs that purify the urine (turmeric, cumin, fennel) can help.
Shatavari root (Asparagus racemosus) is a soothing general remedy for the genitourinary system. A builder and balancer for reproductive organs, it increases semen and sexual juices in general. This cooling herb acts as a blood cleanser, supports the immune system, and acts as a soothing treatment for dry or inflamed membranes of the sex organs. As a mild diuretic, it can relieve the congestion of the boggy prostate. Prepared as a milk decoction (simmer in milk, strain), enjoy it combined with ghee, raw sugar, and honey at 10 grams per day. Another effective formula combines equal parts of ashwaganda, gokshura, and shatavari in powder stirred into honey, or capsules. Use 6-10 grams per day.
BPH causes obnoxious nighttime urinary dribbling, so using diuretics during the day, and then abstaining from water in the evening can reduce nocturnal pilgrimages to the bathroom. Punarnava (Boerhavia diffusa) herb is a classic diuretic in yoga. Punarnava is used as an effective diuretic, anti-spasmodic, and anti-inflammatory remedy with pain relieving qualities for urinary tract issues, including infections. Unlike most diuretics, which are detoxifying, punarnava is a tissue builder, a rasayana. This herb is perfectly designed for prostate problems. Use 4 grams per day with hot water.
Zinc is critical for prostate function. Black pepper, cumin, and coriander increase bioavailability of zinc. Black peppercorn is also a drying herb that will reduce the size of the wet, boggy prostate. Radish is diuretic and detoxifying.
To prevent aggravation of apana, the force that governs elimination, maintain proper bowel volume and movement regularity. Castor oil to bowel tolerance (about 1-2 Tbs per day) will reestablish the proper direction of energy in the large intestine. (See also Kundalini Yoga Apana Kriya.)
Testosterone enhancing foods, such as asparagus, bananas, and dates will delay prostate swelling. A few other foods have general benefit for the urinary tract. Most are diuretic. Beet greens (try as a monodiet for two weeks), coconut, grapefruit, and melon are among Yogi Bhajan’s suggestions.
Banyan tree sap is a folk remedy for the prostate. Banyan trees, huge behemoths that dot north India, have spongy wood filled with milky sap. The sap is easily extracted. It is a sweet sticky liquid somewhat like honey. It is a general tonic remedy for the prostate. Use about a teaspoon per day, especially combined with yogurt. This is a favorite of Yogi Bhajan, who also taught widely about an herbal formula for prostate health that follows yoga principles. He included senna leaf to move apana, ajwain seed and asafetida to enhance digestion, and turmeric for inflammation.
Keeping the prostate healthy is actually a particularly challenging area. Men just don’t come to their practitioners until things are well advanced. But men’s needs are serious. And while they might still tough it out, they are miserable if they don’t seek help. Ayurveda offers a holistic approach to crisis care, and a scheme for managing health and welfare over a lifetime. Really, there’s no need to be in misery from an aging prostate.
Parsley Prostate Rasayana
Try a healing recipe for the prostate from Yogi Bhajan. This is basically a tasty way to ingest a large dose of diuretic, detoxifying, anti-inflammatory parsley.
1 cup basmati rice
2 cups water
I cup dried parsley, or fresh, chopped to taste
2 cups chopped potato (skins on)
2 onions, chopped
2 tsp. ajwain seed
1 tsp. ground red pepper (or more to taste)
1 Tbs. turmeric
1 tsp. black pepper
2 crushed bay leaves
½ cup ghee
Sauté onions in ghee. Add spices. Cook until browned. Add rice, potato, and parsley. Stir unti well mixed. Add water, cover, and cook for another 15-20 minutes. Serves 4-6.
Can be eaten as a mono diet. Serve with yogurt for extra stamina.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Yogaraj, DN-C, RH, is the president of the American Herbalists Guild. He mentored in Ayurveda with Yogi Bhajan for 32 years. The Healing Cures of Yogi Bhajan is his homage to Yogi Bhajan and the wealth of information he had the blessing to learn from his master.
Karta Purkh has presented over 150 times at professional conferences, has written over 3,000 articles on health topics and is the author or editor of 30 books on health, including his latest, The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. He is curriculum director and lead instructor in the Portland Community College Nutritional Therapy Program and heads the herbal education department of the Northwest Institute of Ayurveda. He lives in the Northwest with his wife and daughter. [email protected]