Herbs, Lifestyle Changes May Aid Prostate
Men who are bothered by symptoms of
an enlarged prostate may find some relief in certain herbal remedies
and simple lifestyle changes, according to one expert.
Benign prostate hyperplasia, or
BPH, refers to the slow growth of the prostate gland that commonly
occurs as a man ages. The condition often causes no problems,
but some older men may have symptoms bothersome enough to send
them looking for treatment.
An enlarged prostate can put pressure
on the urethra -- the tube through which urine passes -- and irritate
the bladder. Some BPH symptoms include a weak urinary stream,
inability to completely empty the bladder and frequent nighttime
trips to the bathroom.
Men who are bothered by such symptoms
have several options for combating them, including the herbal
product saw palmetto, according to Dr. Harvey B. Simon, an associate
professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston and
editor of the Harvard Men's Health Watch.
Extracts of the berries of saw
palmetto, also known as the dwarf palm, are widely used in Europe
as an antidote to BPH symptoms. Saw palmetto is also the best
studied of the herbal products marketed for treating the condition,
"It's the one with the greatest
promise," he said.
In the current issue of the Harvard
Men's Health Watch, Simon details some of the research that suggests
saw palmetto may ease BPH symptoms. For instance, a review of
18 studies found that overall, saw palmetto cut nighttime urination
and other BPH symptoms by about one-quarter. The studies, conducted
mostly in Europe, included nearly 3,000 men between the ages of
40 and 88.
A key shortcoming of the research
on saw palmetto, Simon said, is that most studies have been short.
The 18 included in the review he cites lasted for 9 weeks, on
Exactly why saw palmetto may aid
in BPH is not fully clear. Simon points out that animal and lab
research suggests that the herb affects hormone receptors on prostate
cells. And like certain prescription drugs for BPH -- finasteride
(Proscar) and dutasteride (Avodart) -- saw palmetto appears to
inhibit an enzyme that converts testosterone to the hormone dihydrotestosterone,
which is believed to be involved in prostate enlargement.
There are other herbs purported
to ease BPH symptoms, such as Pygeum africanum -- extracted from
the bark of the African plum tree -- and extracts from Urtica
dioica, the stinging nettle. But the evidence for these herbs
is weaker than that for saw palmetto, according to Simon.
And while he said it seems "reasonable"
for men with BPH symptoms to give saw palmetto a try, Simon advised
against "trying one herb after another" in search of help, as
several proven prescription medications are available.
It's also important that men not
take it upon themselves to diagnose and treat BPH. A man with
symptoms of the condition should first see a doctor to confirm
BPH as the cause, according to Simon, and those who decide to
try an herb need to let their doctors know.
Another caveat he noted is that
herbs are not regulated as medication in the U.S., so consumers
cannot be sure an herbal product contains what the label states.
Besides herbs and mainstream medications,
there are also some basic behavioral changes that can combat BPH
symptoms, according to Simon. Among them are: reducing fluid intake;
limiting alcohol and caffeine, and avoiding them after about 3
p.m.; and never passing up a chance to use the bathroom, even
when your bladder doesn't feel full.
SOURCE: Harvard Men's Health Watch,
Reference Source 89
November 11, 2004