Nutrition and Herbs for Prostate Health
Herbalist Michael Vertolli explains how to use your diet and
herbs to treat inflammation and enlargement of the prostate.
Probably the most common mens health issue that Im
asked about in my practice is inflammation or enlargement of the
prostate. Sadly, these and other kinds of reproductive conditions
are on the increase with each successive generation, affecting
men at an earlier age. The good news is that most prostate problems
can be prevented, and they respond well to herbal treatment.
The prostate gland produces a fluid that makes up a significant
proportion of the volume of semen when a man ejaculates. This
gland sits directly under the urinary bladder and in front of
the rectum. The urethra passes through the prostate immediately
after exiting the bladder.
There are three major types of conditions that affect the prostate.
Prostatitis is an acute or chronic inflammation of the prostate
which may or may not be due to infection; chronic non-infectious
prostatitis is by far the most common form. Benign prostatic hyperplasia
(BPH) is an enlargement of the prostate due to an increase in
the reproductive rate and number of certain types of prostate
cells. Prostate cancer is the third and most serious of these
The urinary tract and rectum are organs through which most of
the waste products and toxins in our body are eliminated. The
higher the level of toxicity in a persons body, the higher
the level of toxicity present in their urine and feces. The proximity
of the prostate to these organs makes it very susceptible to an
accumulation of toxicity both as urine passes through the
prostate, and as toxins leach out of urine stored in the bladder
and feces stored in the rectum between bowel movements.
The primary cause of most prostate conditions is toxicity in
general, and hormone disruptors in particular. Hormone disruptors
include pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, plus chemicals
that leach into foods and drinks stored or heated in plastic or
plastic-lined containers, foods cooked in cookware with non-stick
coatings, and chemicals in cleaning and cosmetic products. Additional
hormone disruption can arise from the free floating estrogen in
our water supply (estrogen is excreted in the urine of women on
hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives). In fact,
all sources of toxicity in our food, water, home and work environments
can potentially aggravate prostate inflammation.
In addition to toxicity issues, there are other factors linked
to prostate conditions. These include: consumption of red meats
and dairy products; consumption of trans fats; over-consumption
of omega-6 fatty acids relative to the amount of omega-3 fatty
acids in the diet; obesity; vasectomies; and excessive or low
levels of sexual activity, especially forced celibacy as is practised
by some clergy and in some spiritual traditions. With regard to
celibacy, there appears to be a difference between people who
are highly evolved spiritual beings that have transcended sexuality
and have no sexual desire, and people who practise celibacy as
a forced spiritual discipline. When sexual desire naturally drops
away for spiritual reasons, it doesnt seem to lead to prostate
conditions. However, this is not the case when people subdue sexual
desire for psychological reasons.
In order to prevent or support the treatment of prostate conditions,
a number of dietary and lifestyle recommendations are helpful.
In terms of diet, it is important to eat lots of fruits and vegetables;
reduce consumption of red meats and dairy products (vegetarians
have a lower incidence of prostate conditions); reduce consumption
of processed foods; and eat mostly whole, natural foods
preferably certified organically grown. In particular, berries,
pumpkin seeds and vegetables from the mustard family (arugula,
broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, rapini,
etc.) are beneficial for the prostate.
It is also important to make sure that you are getting enough
omega-3 fatty acids. It is very easy to over-consume omega-6 fatty
acids because they are the dominant lipids in most polyunsaturated
vegetable oils. However, omega-3 is more difficult to get. In
the past, the primary source of omega-3 in our diet was wild game
and fish. Animals dont produce omega-3. Game animals get
it from the grass they eat, fish from algae or eating smaller
fish that ate the algae. Unfortunately, wild game and fish are
no longer foods that can be recommended for regular consumption
because they are loaded with environmental toxins such as mercury,
dioxins and PCBs, and for ecological reasons because it is unsustainable
at our current population level. For these and other reasons,
my favourite source of omega-3 is hemp seed oil and flax seed
oil. However, the latter is preferred because it has much more
omega-3 relative to omega-6, and can therefore better compensate
for the excess of omega-6 in the rest of our diet.
There has been a lot of misinformation propagated about the different
sources of omega-3. Some research indicates that humans can assimilate
flax seed oil equally as well as fish oils, and that the levels
of EPA and DHA in the blood are similar with consumption of both
types of oils for all age groups. The only situation where this
is an issue is for people that have a rare genetic condition or
significant liver dysfunction. In these cases they may have difficulty
converting the omega-3 fatty acids in flax seed oil into EPA and
DHA, whereas these fatty acids occur naturally in fish oils.
Another bit of misinformation about flax seeds concerns phytoestrogens.
These constituents are not the same as estrogen and many of them
actually help protect us from the harmful effects of estrogenic
toxins. This is the case with the phytoestrogens in flax seed.
Since estrogenic toxins are an issue with prostate conditions,
this is an added benefit of using flax seed oil as a source of
Other factors that can help prevent or support the treatment
of prostate conditions include significantly reducing consumption
of foods and liquids stored in plastic or plastic-lined containers;
avoiding the use of drip coffee brewers where the water is heated
and dripped through plastic (a stainless steel or Pyrex percolator
or a Pyrex coffee press are good alternatives); using only natural
hygiene and cleaning products (in particular watch out for phthalates,
parabens, triclocarbans and dioxanes).
There are a number of supplements that can be beneficial for
the prostate of particular importance are zinc, selenium
and vitamin D. Polyphenols such as flavonoids, catechins and anthocyanidins
are also beneficial. These plant constituents are best obtained
by eating lots of fruits and vegetables. However, some supplementation
can be useful as well they work best in combination with
vitamin C. Although green and black teas are a good source of
catechins, most fruits and vegetables are high in polyphenols,
and the caffeine content of tea negates some of its benefits.
As a result, black tea and other caffeine containing beverages
should not be consumed on a daily basis.
Herbal Medicine For Prostate Inflammation
There are many herbs that can be used to treat conditions
of the prostate. Because of the proximity of this organ to the
urinary tract, herbs that most benefit the prostate are also used
to treat urinary conditions. However, not all urinary herbs are
equal when it comes to treatment of prostate conditions. Often,
that work best are those that also have some hormonal activity.
Stinging nettle herb and rhizome (Urtica dioica) is an excellent
prostate herb. The rhizome (root?) is a bit stronger, but the
herb (leaf) is effective as well. In the case of the rhizome,
the North American variety, slender stinging nettle, is the most
Another group of related herbs that are excellent for the prostate
are the willowherbs. There are many species and all of the ones
that Ive used are effective. In Europe, it is small-flowered
hairy willowherb (Epilobium parviflorum) that is most popular,
however I prefer great hairy willowherb (E. hirsutum). Both of
these are Eurasian species that have naturalized in Ontario. Another
closely related species that is also an excellent prostate herb
is fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium). With all of these herbs
it is the aerial (leafy) parts that are used. All parts of Queen
Anns lace (Daucus carota) are beneficial for the prostate,
but for this herb it is the seed that is preferred. Other excellent
prostate herbs include yellow and white sweet clover herb (Melilotus
officinalis and M. alba), common horsetail herb (Equisetum arvense)
and sweet and spotted Joe-Pye rhizome (Eupatorium purpureum and
To make a prostate formulation, I recommend using two or three
of the above herbs. Dont use more than one herb from each
of the groups of closely related herbs. For the best results,
combine herbs with either burdock root (Arctium spp.) or dandelion
root (Taraxacum officinale), a good demulcent herb such as marshmallow
root (Althaea officinalis), and a warming herb that will help
improve circulation to the urinary tract. For prostate conditions,
ginger rhizome (Zingiber officinale) or turmeric rhizome (Curcuma
longa) are preferred.
These herbs can be taken as a tea (2 to 3 teaspoons of the dried
cut and sifted herbs per cup) or as a tincture. The tincture is
preferred. For tinctures use dosages as recommended, but dont
forget that the dose of your entire formulation collectively should
be similar or slightly higher than the highest dose recommended
for your individual tinctures.
There are many chronic health conditions that are on the rise
in our society due to the increasing toxicity of our environment
and modern lifestyles. However, with appropriate dietary and lifestyle
choices, with the help of herbs and supplements when necessary,
it is possible to prevent and treat the majority of these conditions.
It is true that many of the environmental triggers for prostate
problems are outside of our control. This is why it is very important
that we do the best to control those things that we can.
Michael Vertolli is a traditional clinical herbalist practising
in Toronto. He is the director of Living Earth School of Herbalism
which offers introductory classes, certificate and diploma programs.
Visit website at www.livingearthschool.ca.
January 13, 2010