Mention the acronym PSA to a man over 50, and you may see him cringe a little. That's because the letters stand for prostate-specific antigen, a substance produced by the prostate, a walnut-sized reproductive gland that often is a source of health problems for middle-aged and older males.
When a man in that age group goes to the doctor for a prostate checkup, he's generally given a blood test to determine the amount of PSA in his bloodstream. It's normal for a small amount of PSA to be found in the blood, but a higher-than-normal level can indicate one of a variety of unpleasant woes -- a prostate infection, inflammation, enlargement, or, in the worst case scenario, cancer [source: Mayo Clinic]. A high PSA score doesn't always indicate the presence of a malignant growth, and conversely, prostate cancer has been found in men who have normal PSA levels. But generally, if there's something wrong with the prostate that requires further testing, the PSA score will reveal that problem. Doctors continue to monitor PSA levels in men who've been treated for prostate cancer to watch for clues that it may have returned [source: National Cancer Institute].
While no man wants to have an abnormally high PSA count, whatever the cause, it's important to remember that the PSA count is an indicator of problems, not the cause of them. The best way to avoid a bad test score is to have a healthy prostate. While age-related changes in the body and heredity are factors in prostate health, lifestyle and diet also play significant roles. By making some relatively painless changes in how you live, you can maximize your chances of having a healthy prostate and a low PSA score. Here are five suggestions from experts.