For good reasons, I have been taking a lot of tomatoes and onions recently on a very regular basis.  I look for every excuse to take them. The habit did not start today. It has been there for a while, but I just increased the regularity and quantity. Let’s leave onions for another day.

 Prostate enlargement

Recently, an acquaintance died. On enquiry, I learnt he died of prostate cancer. I became very conscious of prostate cancer when I turned 40. One of the pieces of advice I got then was that I should start checking my prostate annually. In the course of foraging to know more about the prostate and prostate cancer, I read in several places that tomatoes are very effective in stemming the growth of and shrinking, the prostate if enlarged. That was how I consciously started taking raw tomatoes: alone and with barbecued chicken and fish. Of course, we also use tomatoes to prepare our stew and other meals.

Then scientists came with their confusion. They advised that fruits are better eaten on an empty stomach, but warned that tomatoes should not be eaten on an empty stomach because the tannic acid present in tomatoes increases acidity in the stomach and may lead to gastric problems. In addition, some experts said consumption of raw tomatoes is especially good for tackling prostate conditions while others said cooked tomatoes have better healing properties than the raw tomatoes. And yet another expert said it is easier for the human body to use lycopene that comes from tomato products, such as tomato paste or tomato juice, than from fresh tomatoes. Prof. Maurice Iwu (yes, the same Iwu who was INEC chairman) added his voice; he said apart from processed tomatoes, lycopene can be obtained from slightly “rotten” (overripe) tomatoes. Recently, I read a report that some tomatoes in tins and sachets are not safe for consumption because the preservatives therein contain three poisonous substances.

The many opinions got me confused and I temporarily stopped taking tomatoes consciously. That was until I went for the funeral of my late acquaintance. As I stared at his casket, I kept telling myself: “So this death could have been prevented if he was consuming tomatoes in reasonable quantity. As I left the church, I said: “to hell with the scientists and their

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confusion; I will do things my own way.” I have made my deductions; now, I have a bowl of blended tomatoes in my fridge. I have decided to take the middle course. I cook it slightly and use it to prepare beans, eggs, stew, etc. Henceforth, I will consume tomatoes regularly and in reasonable quantity until I breathe my last. Death is an inevitable end, but if we can keep it at bay for a while, why not. Again, die we must all die, but if we can prevent a slow painful death, why not. Truth is tomatoes have a legion of benefits to the body beyond the prostate.

What is prostate? The prostate is “a gland surrounding the neck of the bladder in male mammals and releasing a fluid component of semen.” The prostate can be enlarged either as a result of cancerous cells or non-cancerous cells. When it is due to cancerous cells, it is prostate cancer. But when there are no cancerous cells and it is enlarged, it is called Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH).

I used to hesitate in doing prostate checks because I found the physical examination somewhat degrading. They insert an object into your anus to measure the prostate. And you know anything that goes into the anus comes out with some faeces. Invariably, every medical personnel—male or female—often apologized after carrying out the procedure as if they have offended you.  In truth I skipped annual check-ups for about two years until I travelled abroad for health reasons. I did a comprehensive check-up and when the results came out, I saw prostate result. How? I wondered. It was then I learnt that you can also check your prostate with your blood sample.

But my personal physician prefers physical examination. My cousin, Dr. Martina Agberien, shares a similar opinion: “It is good to have both the blood and the rectal examination is done as you cannot rely on only one, especially when the blood result is suspicious or calls for concern. When rectal is done, the doctor searches and feels the prostate for texture, smoothness and size; the doctor also checks if the prostate is hard, firm or soft, etc. You cannot see these from the blood test. The blood test, which is prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), will only tell you about the antigens. You need both methods to help your inference. The final diagnosis is obtained after doing a biopsy. This is confirmatory and would tell you if the prostate enlargement is malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). The problem with the PSA test for prostate cancer is that while it is sensitive, it is not highly specific for prostate cancer. This is because the test may be positive for non-cancerous conditions such as Prostatitis and BPH.” The good news is that both methods are readily available in Nigeria. From about N10,000, which I used to pay for the test some years ago, I learnt you can now do it as for as low as N2,500.

Some symptoms of an enlarged prostate include Frequent or urgent need to urinate, increased frequency of urination at night (nocturia), difficulty in starting urination, weak urine stream or a stream that stops and starts dribbling at the end of urination and inability to completely empty the bladder. In extreme or advanced cases, there can be total blockage of the urethra from the enlarged prostate and the patient will have a full bladder, but be unable to pass urine. A Catheter is then required at this stage. Complications do arise from this blockade: risk of urinary tract infection challenges to the kidneys, etc.

Are you a male, 40 and above, and you have not started checking your prostate? Please do it immediately. You do not need to hear the tales of prostate cancer patients before you do. Need I tell you that it costs millions to treat and manage prostate cancer? And there are no guarantees. Prevent prostate enlargement and cancer by going for annual checks as recommended. Also, like me, start a reasonable consumption of tomatoes. Other natural remedies include regular exercise, moderate consumption of dairy and alcohol. Men should also avoid wearing dirty and tight underwear. Heat is not good for that region of the body. It is no coincidence that the male organs are outside, not inside the body. Consult your doctor to learn more about the prostate and prostate cancer.

Special thanks to Dr. Martina Agberien, Deputy Director (Medical), NTA, for the additional medical materials and information.


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