The prostate gland is a small, walnut-sized organ located just under the bladder. It surrounds the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. The prostate has a dual function as part of the excretory and the reproductive systems. This small gland stays the same size throughout an adult male’s life until the male hormones (androgens), the most predominate of which is testosterone, begin to decline and then the prostate begins to grow again. The most common condition associated with this growth is known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH.
Testosterone levels decline steadily from a man’s fortieth year on, at the rate of approximately one percent per year. When testosterone production declines, the estrogen ratio increases (estrogen stimulates cell growth), and other male hormones synthesized from testosterone are thrown out of balance. One of these hormones is dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The enzyme 5-alpha-reductase converts testosterone into this more potent androgen known as DHT. DHT is one of the causes of prostate enlargement (BPH), acne, and male-pattern baldness as well as, in women, excessive facial hair growth.
As the prostate swells or grows, it begins to press on the urethra and may start acting like a clamp. This can cause the urination flow to decrease, the bladder can become irritated and start to contract independently even if it only contains a small amount of fluid. Over time the bladder weakens, the urgency and need to urinate becomes more frequent, leakage and only partial emptying of the bladder combine to create many of the symptoms linked to BPH. Symptoms are seldom noticed before 40 years of age though the majority of men start to feel the effects in their 50’s and approximately 90 percent of all men will have symptoms in their 70’s and 80’s.
There appear to be many factors contributing to BPH, the cause is not well understood and there is no known medical cure at this time. Yet, it is possible to naturally decrease the prostate gland to a healthy size through diet and supplementation. A whole-food diet based on organic vegetables, fruits, berries, whole grains, fish, soy products, flax and pumpkin seeds provide the most important building blocks for a healthy prostate. Many Asian countries have low rates of prostate problems. Research suggests that this is linked to a diet low in saturated fat and refined sugar, and high in essential fatty acids, soy foods and carotene-rich vegetables. Eating a nutritious diet may be the most powerful step towards good prostate health.
Certain herbs and extracts have been found useful in protecting and maintaining a healthy prostate. In Germany and Austria, physicians use plant medicines as the first treatment of choice in over 90 percent of cases of mild to moderate BPH. The most effective of these natural remedies are often found in therapeutic formulas especially developed for a man’s reproductive and urinary track health. For those men who may be suffering from painful or hesitant urination, urgency or inability to void, or need to frequently urinate during the night, the following herbs, extracts, or vitamins may be of interest.
You can also try Prairie Naturals Prost Force, which contains a unique blend of the following herbs, in a convenient natural supplement form.
Saw Palmetto Berry Oil Extract
This low-growing palm tree bears a fruit that has a long history of use as an aphrodisiac and sexual rejuvenator. It has been used to tone and strengthen the male reproductive system. Scientific studies have shown that a standardized extract of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) berries containing 85% sterols and fatty acids produced increased urinary flow, reduced residual urine, and decreased frequency of urination in patients suffering from BPH. This herb relieves the symptoms of BPH in various ways. Saw palmetto appears to alter levels of various sex hormones that cause prostate cells to multiply. It is a natural DHT inhibitor, preventing its formation, and may also inhibit the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. The herb’s antispasmodic action affects smooth muscle in the prostate. In addition, it may act to curb inflammation and swelling by inhibiting the harmful types of prostaglandins, hormone-like chemicals that are naturally produced in the body.
Some men experience improvement as quickly as 1 month. Practitioners generally recommend taking the extract for 4 to 6 months. The dosage is 160 to 320 milligrams of the extract taken daily.
Pygeum Bark Extract - 25% beta sitosterol
The extract from pygeum (Pygeum africanum), a large African evergreen tree, is an important part of a healthy prostate program. Pygeum bark contains at least three classes of fat-soluble active constituents that exert different, yet beneficial and complementary, effects on BPH. Pygeum has notable anti-inflammatory action and is helpful in reducing prostate swelling. Pygeum also improves the quality and quantity of prostate secretions. The mechanism of action of pygeum is different from but complementary to that of saw palmetto and stinging nettle. The most common dosage range of the standardized extract is 50-100 milligrams daily. The daily dosage may be less when combined with stinging nettle extract.
Stinging Nettle Extract 5:1
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is useful as a natural anti-inflammatory that prevents the generation of harmful prostaglandins, the body’s inflammatory chemicals, specifically in the prostate gland. The extract may have an effect upon testosterone levels by inhibiting the 5-alpha-reductase enzyme and therefore, the production of DHT (the chemical that appears to play a role in prostate enlargement). Stinging nettle also blocks the binding of testosterone to its carrier protein leaving more testosterone in its free, sexually active form. The dosage range of the extract is 600 to 1200 milligrams daily.
Lycopene is a carotenoid that imparts red colour to tomato, guava, rosehip, watermelon and pink grapefruit. A Harvard University study on the relationship between lycopene consumption and prostate cancer surmised that men who consumed greater amounts of lycopene than their counter group had a significantly lower risk of incidence of prostate cancer. Lycopene is the most abundant carotenoid found in the prostate gland and protects the prostate from free-radical damage. The highest dietary source of lycopene is processed tomato products. Health benefits are achieved at 50 milligrams of lycopene consumed daily.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in B vitamins, essential fatty acids and zinc, all of which are important to a healthy immune system. They are also a good source of selenium. The need for selenium and zinc is greater for men as both are highly utilized in the male body. Pumpkin seeds are also rich in the amino acids alanine, glycine and glutamine, all of which seem to have a positive effect in reducing the size of the prostate gland.
Oysters and other shellfish have traditionally been known to boost sexual function. They contain essential fatty acids, zinc and trace minerals such as copper.
Almost half of the male supply of zinc is concentrated in the testicles and prostate gland. Zinc is critical to male sex hormone synthesis and action, sperm formation and motility, and overall prostate function. Research suggests that the high zinc content in prostate fluid act as an antibacterial agent to help prevent infections. Moderate to severe zinc deficiencies can result in under-functioning sex glands and enlargement of the prostate gland.
The RDA for men is 15 milligrams of elemental zinc although daily dosages between 30 to 60 milligrams are usually recommended for BPH.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine HCl)
This vitamin is involved in the conversion of hormones as well as the metabolism of sex hormones. In addition, Vitamin B6 supplementation may enhance zinc absorption. A maintenance dosage of 50 milligrams daily is suggested.
This fat-soluble antioxidant is especially useful for preventing oxidation of cholesterol and fats in the bloodstream. It protects the B vitamins, red blood cells and hormones from being oxidized by free radicals. The alpha tocopherol and gamma tocopherol forms of Vitamin E are both important for the protection of the prostate gland. A single daily dosage containing 400IU of natural source Vitamin E, with 20% gamma tocopherol in a mixed tocopherol base, has been shown to provide the protection needed.
Flaxseed Oil-Omega 3 essential fatty acids
Consuming large amounts of flaxseed or flaxseed oil will provide a rich source of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). These EFAs are converted in the body to the beneficial form of prostaglandins that counteract inflammation and support prostate health. Lignans, a phyto-estrogen found in flaxseed, may have powerful antiestrogenic effects on the prostate. Lignans block the cancer-causing effects of both natural estrogen and xenoestrogens (powerful estrogen-acting chemicals that infiltrate the environment from pesticides, solvents, adhesives, plastics, PCBs, etc.), especially those that cause breast and prostate cancer. Flaxseed oil or freshly ground seed can be added, unheated, to salads, cereal, and other prepared foods.
Daily amounts of one to two tablespoonfuls of oil or ground seed is recommended.
Men of any age group can benefit from these natural supplements for the protection of the male reproductive system. Although BPH may not cause any problems in the lives of some men, in others it may cause considerable discomfort and concern. Many men find it embarrassing and uncomfortable to talk about it even with their doctor. Leaving these and other symptoms unchecked can have an enormous effect on a man’s health including decreased quality of life, hampered sexual performance, bladder infection, and kidney failure. For those men who do suffer from BPH and find the condition unbearable, there is help.
RoseMarie Pierce is a holistic pharmacist, the Educational Director for Prairie Naturals Health Products and a partner in SunStreams Natural Living Store in Calgary.
Rose, Marc R. A Woman’s Guide to Male Menopause. Los Angeles: Keats Publ. 2000 “Protecting His Prostate” pg. 113-134.
Saul, David. Sex for Life. Vancouver: Apple Publ. Co. 1999 “The Prostate Gland” pg. 157-182.
Mindell, Earl L. Prescription Alternatives. Los Angeles: Keats Publ. 1999 “Drugs For Prostate And There Natural Alternatives” pg. 449-455.
Chandler, Frank. Herbs Everyday Reference for Health Professionals. Ottawa: National Printers. 2000 “Saw Palmentto” pg. 185-187 “Pygeum” pg. 176-178 “Stinging Nettle” pg. 206-207.
Blumenthal, Mark. Herbal Medicine Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Med. Com. 2000 “Saw Palmentto Berry” pg. 335-340, “Pumpkin Seed” pg. 322-325.
Boon, H., Smith M. Botanical Pharmacy. Kingston, ON: Quarry Press Inc. 1999 “Nettle” pg. 255-259 “Saw Palmentto” pg. 271-275.
McCaleb, Robert. Encyclopedia of Popular Herbs. California: Prima Health Publ, 2000 “Saw Palmentto” pg.325-332, “Nettle” pg. 307-316, “Flax” pg. 163-173.