A walnut-sized gland in the male reproductive system, the prostate grows early in puberty and then again—continuously—beginning around age 25. This growth may be cause for concern for some men as early as age 40.
The urgent need to urinate frequently (often in the middle of the night) and hesitant, interrupted flow are annoying symptoms of prostate enlargement, aka benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
More than half of men in their 60s and up to 90 percent of those over 70 experience some signs of BPH. If this condition worsens, more serious problems can develop, ranging from acute urinary retention (sometimes triggered by allergy or cold medications) to incontinence, bladder stones, and even organ damage.
It’s important to discuss symptoms of prostate enlargement with a health care provider who may also want to rule out cancer.
Recent studies have questioned the best way to detect prostate cancer. But “nearly every case of prostate cancer in the last 15 to 20 years was found with an initial PSA [prostate- specific antigen] blood test and/or DRE [digital rectal exam] screening,” says E. David Crawford, MD, principal investigator with the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial.
There are several risk factors for prostate cancer including age, ethnicity, and family history. But “a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants helps lower the risk,” says Dr. Crawford.
Other experts point to hormonal factors; in fact, increased estrogenic pollutants in the environment parallel the rise in prostate disease.
In Europe, supplements “are the treatments of choice in 90 to 95 percent of [BPH] cases,” writes Stephen Harrod Buhner in The Natural Testosterone Plan.
They work, he explains, by relaxing prostate muscles and allowing urine to flow more easily.
As prostate-specific anti-inflammatories, supplements can help normalize hormonal activity. “Natural treatment protocols are much cheaper than pharmaceuticals, do not have to be taken forever, tend to lower the risk of prostate cancer, and have few side effects.”
Research using ultrasound images finds that combining saw palmetto, widely used for BPH, and nettle reduces the size of prostate swelling. Consider the following regimen for three months to a year:
- Nettle root (300 to 600 milligrams [mg] twice daily)
- Saw palmetto (160 mg standardized extract twice daily)
- Rye grass pollen (60 to 120 mg twice daily)
- Flaxseed oil (1 tablespoon daily)
- Zinc (50 mg daily).
Urologist James F. Balch, MD, also recommends the sterol-rich African herb Pygeum africanum, helpful in relieving nighttime urination, and the phytonutrient beta sitosterol for overall BPH symptoms. In recent studies, lycopene, vitamin D supplementation, and zinc have all been shown to inhibit BPH progression.
Don’t forget homeopathy. Clematis is a specific remedy for prostate swelling that causes slow urine flow or dribbling. Lycopodium appears useful for BPH accompanied by sexual dysfunction.
“Dietary Patterns, Supplement Use, and the Risk of Symptomatic Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia . . .” by A. R. Kristal et al., Am J Epidemiol, 4/15/08
“Lycopene Inhibits Disease Progression in Patients with Benign Prostate Hyperplasia” by S. Schwarz et al., J Nutr, 1/08
The Natural Testosterone Plan by Stephen Harrod Buhner ($14.95, Healing Arts, 2007)
Personal communication: E. David Crawford, MD, founder and chairman, Prostate Conditions Education Council; head, section of Urologic Oncology at University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, 3/09
“Pharmacologically Relevant Receptor Binding Characteristics and 5Alpha-Reductase Inhibitory Activity of . . . Saw Palmetto Extract” by M. Abe et al., Biol Pharm Bull, 4/09
Prescription for Natural Cures by James F. Balch, MD, and Mark Stengler, ND ($24.95, Wiley, 2004)
“Prostate Enlargement: Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia,” National Institutes of Health, 6/06