Information on current research on herbs and benign prostate hyperplasia.
Suddenly, you start waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Afraid to be far from a restroom, you now avoid the golf course and are wary of long road trips. Finally, it’s confirmed by your doctor. You have an enlarged prostate, also called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
By age 50, one of every two men has an enlarged prostate. By 80 years of age, over 80 percent of men have some form of this disorder. Common symptoms include an increased urge to urinate (especially at night), a weak or slow urinary stream and strained urination. At times, it can lead to infections or kidney problems.
Traditional treatment for BPH includes medication and/or surgery. To avoid surgery and the potential side effects of medication, many men look to “natural” supplements to relieve symptoms. But do supplements work? Are they safe? Here are the most popular supplements used to try to treat prostate conditions.
Saw palmetto leads the pack. It is used by more than two million American men who seek relief from the symptoms of BPH. Many early studies showed that saw palmetto decreased nighttime urination and improved urinary flow.
In 2006, though, a well-controlled study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) showed different results. In this study, saw palmetto proved no better than a placebo at relieving BPH symptoms. Researchers cited potential problems with earlier studies, including small size, short duration and poor quality.
While doctors have been studying saw palmetto since the 1800s, the jury is still out. In the NEJM study, only one formula of saw palmetto was tested. Researchers suggest that other preparations or doses of the herb might work better. A larger study of herbal remedies, including saw palmetto, is planned.
Talk to your doctor before you try this herb. Saw palmetto can sometimes cause bleeding, so it’s best to avoid it if you are on a blood thinner or are going into surgery. It’s also not a good idea to use it if you are taking a prescription medication for BPH.
Pygeum is made from the bark of the African plum tree. Studies show that it is moderately effective in reducing the number of nighttime urinary episodes and urinary frequency in men with mild to moderate BPH symptoms. But until there are more comparison studies, it’s not clear how pygeum compares in effectiveness and safety with other treatments, such as prescription drugs, surgery or other herbs/supplements.
Nettle is a leafy plant. The root contains the active component, beta sitosterol. Some research has shown that the root may have the potential to relieve BPH symptoms, such as frequent urination and weak urinary flow. These studies were too small and brief to produce conclusive results, though.
Should you try an herbal supplement?
Further studies on using herbal supplements to treat BPH are underway and more are needed. Until more is known, ask your own doctor if an herbal supplement may be right for you. Although generally regarded as safe, keep these points in mind:
- All have the potential for mild side effects. These may include digestive upset, stomach pain or nausea.
- None of these herbs will reduce the size of the prostate gland or reverse the process of BPH.
- Most herbs are not FDA-regulated. They can vary from batch to batch and may not be reliable. There is no guarantee of their strength, purity or safety. This can make the effects vary.
If you choose to try a natural approach, be sure to check with your doctor and/or pharmacist first. To avoid any harmful interactions, tell them what medications you are currently taking. That includes all prescriptions, over-the-counter products, vitamins and herbs.