Natural Therapies for Prostate Problems
Julian Whitaker, MD
When Fred was in his late fifties, he began to awaken at night to relieve himself. Over the next few years, these visits to the bathroom gradually increased until he was getting up five times a night. Yet despite this sense of urgency, he had trouble going and his urinary flow was more of a dribble than a steady stream. He tried cutting back on liquids and concentrating on emptying his bladder (which he felt he never quite achieved), but nothing worked.
Prostate Growth is Triggered by Hormone Changes
Fred was going through a rite of passage, one as predictable for men as menopause is for women. Beginning for most men between the ages of 40 and 60 and affecting virtually all of us by the time we are 80, the prostate gland undergoes a growth spurt, a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This enlargement is prodded by an increase in the activity of an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, which is concentrated in the prostate, testicles, and scalp and converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
While testosterone builds muscle and bone, protects against heart disease, and boosts energy and sex drive, increased levels of DHT are responsible for two of the least pleasant aspects of male aging. One is male-pattern baldness (receding hairline), and the other is prostate growth.
The prostate gland, which produces the fluid part of the semen, sits like a doughnut around the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the penis. This accelerated growth chokes off the urethra and interferes with normal urinary flow. Unlike prostate cancer, BPH is not a life-threatening disease. Yet for many men, like Fred, the symptoms of BPH dramatically reduce their quality of life.
Conventional Medicine Offers Only Drugs and Surgery
When Fred finally consulted his doctor about his problem, he was given two choices: a prescription drug or surgery. The drug he was offered, Proscar (finasteride), does reduce symptoms of BPH in about half of the men who try it, but it has a host of side effects, including decreased libido and erectile dysfunction. All this for $75 a month!
Surgery wasn’t any more attractive to Fred. Transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) is a common procedure performed approximately 400,000 times a year. It involves cutting away abnormal prostate tissue with an instrument inserted through the urethra. Yet even after surgery the prostate keeps growing. In about 15 percent of all men who undergo TURP, symptoms return within a year, and 20 percent require repeat surgery within 10 years.
Saw Palmetto and Pygeum: Prostate Prodigies
Instead, Fred decided to go with a more natural approach: saw palmetto and pygeum.
I have been using an extract from the berries of the saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) plant, a small palm tree native to the Eastern seaboard, to treat my patients with BPH for 15 years, since it first became available in this country. Saw palmetto works on the same principle as Proscar. It inhibits the action of the enzyme that begins the chain of events leading to prostate enlargement, but with none of the negative side effects associated with the drug.
Saw palmetto has been studied in dozens of controlled clinical trials, virtually all of them carried out in Europe, where this herb has been used for decades. In a 1994 Belgian study, 305 men with mild to moderate symptoms of BPH were treated with 160 mg of saw palmetto twice a day for three months. After 45 days, significant improvements were noted in urinary flow rates, residual urinary volume and prostate size. At the study’s conclusion, further improvements were observed and 88 percentof the patients and their physicians rated the treatment as successful.
Pygeum (Pygeum africanum) also has solid scientific backing. It contains a number of natural compounds called sterols, including beta-sitosterol, that counter prostate enlargement by reducing inflammation and edema (fluid retention), as well as inhibiting 5-alpha-reductase. In a multi-center study carried out in Germany, France and Austria, 263 patients with BPH were divided into two groups and administered either 100 mg pygeum or a placebo. After 60 days, 66 percent of the men taking pygeum reported significant improvements in nighttime need to urinate, frequency of urination, urinary flow and residual urine. Only 31 percent of the placebo group noted any improvement.
These Herbs Outperform Drugs
Compare these research findings for saw palmetto and pygeum to the studies on Proscar, in which fewer than half of the study subjects notice improvement while using the drug. The herbs win hands down. Furthermore, saw palmetto and pygeum have no known toxicity and are extremely well tolerated.
Although saw palmetto and pygeum constitute my core program for BPH, other plant compounds improve this condition and contribute to overall prostate health. Chief among these are stinging nettle (or nettle root, Urtica dioica), pumpkin seed oil, and lycopene (a phytonutrient found in tomatoes that reduces the risk of prostate cancer).
Fred did very well on this herbal regimen. Within two weeks, he began noticing improvements. Over the next three months his nighttime trips to the bathroom dwindled from five down to one. He reports that the return of normal urination and a good night’s sleep after all these years is a “gift from God.”
- To learn more about how we at Whitaker Wellness can help with BPH and other men’s health problems, call (866) 944-8253 or click here.
- Wilt, TJ et al. Saw palmetto extracts for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. JAMA. Nov. 11, 1998;280(18): 1604-1609.
- Braeckman, J. The extract of Seronoa repens in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: a multicenter open study. Current Therapeutic Research. July 1994;55(7): 776-785.
- Barlet, A et al. Efficacy of Pygeum africanum extract in the treatment of micturitional disorders due to benign prostatic hyperplasia. Wein Klin Wochenschr. 1990;22: 667-673.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.