Inflammation is the human body’s immune response to harmful stimuli. These harmful stimuli include harmful bacteria, viruses, and toxic compounds.
Even trauma can lead to inflammation. For example, a sprained ankle during a hockey game leads to swelling, pain, warmth, and redness of the ankle.
Inflammation is characterized by exactly these four elements – swelling, pain, redness, and heat (Tracy, 2006, Ciaccia, 2011).
Anti-inflammatory supplements work to modulate a hyperactive immune response and bring it back to the baseline.
Unique symptoms characterize the inflammation of specific organs. For example, swelling of the liver, which is known as hepatitis, is characterized by a right upper quadrant abdominal pain and the yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
On the other hand, inflammation of the joints, which is known as arthritis, leads to swollen and painful joints, which have a limited range of motion.
There are several anti-inflammatory drugs in the market, which are routinely used by millions of Americans daily. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil, Aleve, and Actron. More potent agents such as corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone) are even more effective in reducing inflammation.
However, these drugs are costly in the long run and are associated with significant side-effects. Examples of these adverse effects include fatigue, gastric ulcers, insulin resistance, allergies, elevated blood pressure, and kidney damage.
It is, therefore, essential to look outside of traditional pharmacotherapeutic agents and explore nature’s offerings as regards inflammation.
In this article, we focus on the inflammation of the prostate gland, also known as prostatitis. We critically evaluate the role of zinc in the management of prostatitis and explore the latest scientific evidence.
What Is Zinc?
Zinc is an element that is symbolized by “Zn” on the periodic table. At room temperature, zinc appears like a brittle metal and has been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes.
Indeed, the Romans utilized zinc for sore eyes, and vast quantities of the element have been found aboard Roman vessels dating back to 140 BC. Zinc has long been established as an essential element for the survival of plants, animals, and humans alike.
The first documented case of zinc deficiency in a human was reported in 1961 in a young Iranian farmer. The signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency are as follows (Saper and Rash, 2009):
- Delay in puberty
- Erectile dysfunction
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- Poorly developed testes
- Poor immune system
Zinc is also associated with several key health benefits when present in sufficient quantities. These health benefits are as follows:
- Reducing the severity of diarrhea during a bout of gastroenteritis
- Slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration (eye disease)
- Reducing the risk of contracting upper respiratory tract infections
- Promoting effective and rapid wound healing
Almost 10% of all men experience some prostatitis over one year. In about 6% of men, these symptoms are bothersome. Prostatitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection of the prostate gland. There are four main types of prostatitis:
- Severe symptoms
- Widespread infection
- Short-term course
- With or without symptoms
- Associated with recurrent urinary tract infections
- Long-term course
Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Voiding symptoms
Asymptomatic Inflammatory Prostatitis
- Inflammation of the prostate
- Absence of urinary symptoms
- Absence of genital related symptoms
Signs and Symptoms of Prostatitis
The signs and symptoms of prostatitis are varied and depend on the type of prostatitis. In acute bacterial prostatitis, the symptoms are as follows (Videčnik Zorman et al., 2015):
- Muscle aches
- Painful urination (burning sensation)
- Frequency of urination
- Hesitancy when urinating
- Pelvic pain
- Exquisite pain during a digital rectal examination
In chronic bacterial prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndrome, the symptoms are as follows (Krieger et al., 2002):
- Penile and scrotal pain
- Abdominal pain
- Low back pain
- Painful urination
- Urethral discharge
- Problems in voiding
- Sexual dysfunction
Can Zinc be Used to Treat Prostatitis?
Several studies have validated the efficacy of zinc in the management of prostatitis. One recent randomized controlled trial looked at 120 men who had been diagnosed with chronic bacterial prostatitis. They were segregated into two groups.
The control group was administered with placebo (dummy) medicine for three months. Conversely, the experimental group was administered with 220mg of zinc daily as a capsule, without any other supplementation.
Before the study commenced, all participants in this trial were assessed with a validated instrument, and no differences in the severity of their symptoms were revealed.
However, after the study commenced, a significant decline in the symptom scores was observed in the zinc group. After three months of administering both groups with zinc and placebo, respectively, the researchers observed that there was a statistically significant difference in pain scores (Goodarzi et al., 2013).
Another human study recruited 61 men and randomized them into two groups: antibiotics and organic zinc, versus antibiotics alone.
Researchers evaluated the participants for symptoms of prostatitis, such as pelvic pain and urinary problems. They found that both the symptoms of pain as well as the voiding problems were markedly reduced in the zinc group (Deng et al., 2004).
Animal studies have also validated the role of zinc in the treatment of prostatitis. The observation that zinc levels decrease in chronic prostatitis patients has led researchers to study the effect of zinc in prostatitis.
In one study, researchers investigated bacterial growth in rat prostate glands after injecting zinc into the gland directly.
Microbiological analysis of the prostate glands revealed that zinc demonstrated inhibition of bacterial growth. Rats that were treated with the zinc injections also showed a higher level of zinc within the prostate gland itself (Cho et al., 2002).
Zinc and Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
A clinical trial, published in the Indian Journal of Urology, looked at the zinc status of patients who had previously been diagnosed with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). There was also a group of patients with prostate carcinoma involved in the study – the same tests were performed on participants in this group.
Levels of zinc were measured in prostate tissue. Researchers also tested the zinc/creatinine ratio in the urine of all participants who were part of the study.
All results were compared to samples and results obtained from male patients who did not have either one of these conditions – with tissue being considered “normal” or otherwise “healthy.”
Two important conclusions were made in this study, showing a clear relationship between zinc and an enlarged prostate.
Among those patients with benign prostatic hyperplasia, zinc levels declined in prostate tissue by an average of 61% when these results were matched to zinc levels in normal tissue.
The amount of zinc expelled through urine in those patients with benign prostatic hyperplasia increased by 20% on average, when compared to the results obtained from the participants who did not have this condition or prostate carcinoma.
This study provided evidence that there is a lower concentration of zinc found in the prostate tissue, as well as generally in the bodies, of those individuals who develop an enlarged prostate.
Additionally, the body also seems to expel more zinc when this particular condition has developed.
With this in mind, the reduction in zinc levels detected among individuals with an enlarged prostate might indicate a need for additional supplementation with the mineral.
Potential Side Effects of Zinc
Compared to other metal ions, zinc is relatively harmless. Only exposure to excessive amounts of zinc will result in toxicity. Zinc intoxication is an extremely rare event.
The human body usually contains anywhere between 2 to 3 grams of zinc, 90% of which is found in the muscles and bones. When zinc is ingested, it travels to the small intestine where it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
Zinc toxicity interferes with the absorption of copper as well, leading to signs and symptoms of copper deficiency. These are the signs and symptoms of zinc toxicity:
- Muscle Cramps
- Epigastric abdominal pain
- Copper Deficiency
- Low white blood cells
- Weakened immunity
- Numbness and weakness
- Visual disturbances
- Colour blindness
Natural Sources of Zinc
There are three main ways in which zinc can enter the human body. These are:
- Through the Skin
- Oral Ingestion
Inhalation of zinc is typically only experienced by industrial workers, such as those in manufacturing. Inhalation of zinc causes metal fume fever, which causes fever, muscle aches, fatigue, chest pain, cough, and shortness of breath.
Another unconventional way in which zinc is absorbed is through the skin. Zinc is a well-known supplement that has been used to treat wounds topically, as it promotes wound healing. However, the concentrations of zinc in these supplements are not significant enough for skin absorption to be considerable.
Because zinc is a trace element, oral intake of sufficient quantities is essential for survival. The recommended dietary allowance of zinc is 11mg/day for men and 8mg/day for women. There are several naturally occurring sources of zinc (Rangan and Samman, 2012):
- Meat, Poultry, and Game
- Fish and Seafood
- Egg Products
- Seeds and Nuts
- Milk Products
- Soy milk
- Breakfast Cereals
Treatments for Prostatitis
Conventionally, acute bacterial prostatitis is managed with antibiotics. However, chronic bacterial prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndrome, which are more drawn out types of prostatitis, are regulated by the following strategies (Rees et al., 2015, Duclos et al., 2007):
- Neuromodulatory Therapies
- Physiotherapy and Pelvic Floor Muscle Relaxation
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
The in-depth discussion of these therapies is beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, it is essential to acknowledge that these therapies can be costly and are associated with their own side-effects. Although some treatments are promising, there is no guaranteed success as with any drug or intervention.
Medicinal Treatment for Prostatitis
There are three main types of medication which are routinely prescribed for the management of prostatitis (Magri et al., 2019):
- 5-alpha reductase inhibitors
These medications are useful for the management of chronic prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndrome. However, antibiotics are most useful in the management of acute bacterial prostatitis. Typical antibiotics that are used include (Pirola et al., 2019):
Diet & Lifestyle
Researchers have described an association between chronic bacterial prostatitis, chronic pelvic pain syndrome, and alterations in intestinal function.
Diet regulates the composition of the intestinal bacteria (flora) and directly influences the health of the intestinal cells. Keeping in mind that the small intestine absorbs zinc into the bloodstream, intestinal health must be prioritized.
A healthy intestinal microbiome also protects one against urinary tract infections and bacterial prostatitis. Hence, men are advised to maintain a healthy intake of fiber from fruits and vegetables, as well as ingest probiotics to promote good bacterial growth (Magri et al., 2019).
Other Natural Treatments for Prostatitis
Several natural treatment alternatives exist for the management of prostatitis. Apart from zinc, the following naturally occurring compounds have been validated by cutting-edge scientific research as viable therapeutic options for prostatitis (Capodice et al., 2005; Yoon et al., 2013):
Zinc is a vital trace element that is essential for the sustenance of human life. Zinc is responsible for a plethora of functions, including normal growth and development, the production of healthy blood cells, and the development of a robust immune system.
Although zinc deficiency is rare and virtually unheard of in the developed world, it is vital to ensure a balanced diet to maintain one’s zinc levels. Zinc has been shown to promote antibacterial activity in the context of prostatitis, and two well designed human trials have validated its ability to improve the symptoms of prostatitis to a significant extent.
At Ben’s Natural Health, we have specially curated a synergistic blend of zinc and other essential vitamins and natural extracts for comprehensive prostate health. Each Vegicap contains 15 mg of zinc, which is roughly 50% higher than the recommended daily allowance.
By ensuring that your zinc levels are optimized, you reduce your risk of an enlarged prostate gland and lower the intensity and frequency of prostatitis symptoms.