If you're a man and you live long enough, you will almost certainly develop benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Ninety percent of all men show signs of such prostatic enlargement by the age of 80. Symptoms include difficulty in starting urination, a diminished force of urinary stream, a sensation of fullness in the bladder after urination, and the need to urinate many times at night. Ultimately, the obstruction can become so severe that urination is impossible.
The most common treatment for BPH is surgery that removes most of the prostate gland. Medications such as Cardura, Flomax, Hytrin, and Proscar can relieve symptoms of BPH. In addition, Proscar has been shown to shrink the prostate and reduce the need for surgery. However, all of these medications can cause significant side effects.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
The best-documented herbal treatment for BPH is the oil of the berry of the saw palmetto tree. This herb is so well accepted in Europe that synthetic pharmaceuticals are considered alternative therapy for BPH. Saw palmetto offers two potential advantages over conventional drug treatment. The most obvious is that it usually causes no side effects. Another advantage is that saw palmetto does not change prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. Lab tests that measure PSA are used to screen for prostate cancer. The widely used drug Proscar can artificially lower PSA levels, which may have the unintended effect of masking prostate cancer.
Despite its popularity, the scientific evidence that saw palmetto is effective for prostate enlargement is inconsistent at best.
Although there are many theories about how saw palmetto works, none have been conclusively established. The best evidence suggests that the herb affects male hormones.
For important dosage and safety information, see the full Saw Palmetto article.
The pygeum tree is a tall evergreen native to central and southern Africa. Its bark has been used since ancient times for urinary problems.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Pygeum article.
Anyone who lives in a locale where nettle grows wild will likely discover the powers of this dark green plant. Depending on the species, the fine hairs on its leaves and stem cause burning pain that lasts from hours to weeks. Both its leaves and roots can be used as medicine. The root is a popular European treatment for BPH. However, it has not been as well studied as saw palmetto or pygeum.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Nettle article.
Numerous plants contain cholesterol-like compounds called sitosterols and their close relatives sitosterolins. A special mixture of these, called beta-sitosterol, is used for the treatment of BPH.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Beta-sitosterol article.
Grass pollen is also used to treat BPH. The grasses used for this preparation are 92% rye, 5% timothy, and 3% corn. Related grass pollen extracts are used for allergy shots. However, the grass pollen extracts described here are different in that they have their allergenic components removed. Grass pollen is also an entirely different product than bee pollen.
An important finding in this study was that the prostates of the men taking grass pollen significantly decreased in size according to ultrasound measurements taken.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Grass Pollen Extract article.
Cucurbita pepo Epilobium parviflorum Pygeum africanum Serenoa repens
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Pumpkin seeds are approved for use in BPH by Germany's Commission E. The mineral zinc is also commonly recommended in both Europe and the United States as a treatment for prostate disease, as are both whole flaxseed and flaxseed oil , along with the herbs maca ( Lepidium meyenii ) and oat straw ( Avena sativa ). However, there is no meaningful evidence to indicate that any of these proposed options are effective.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 09/2014 -
- Update Date: 09/18/2014 -