Prostate Protection - Born in the U.S.A. - Saw Palmetto

(c) Steven Foster, Contributing Writer
Better Nutrition August 1997

If you're a male, or have a man in your life, you know that when age creeps up over 40, as mine did this year, it is important to begin to think about the health of your prostate. Over 50 percent of men over 50 years of age may experience prostate problems.

A common problem often treatable with herbal preparations is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), characterized by a benign (non-cancerous) hyperplasia (enlargement) of the prostate. While this is not life-threatening, it can affect the quality of one's life, in particular, the number of times in which a man may feel the urge to urinate during the night - as many as three or four times, or more. The prostate enlargement resulting from BPH narrows the urethra, thus producing poor urinary flow. This can also lead to a host of other urinary symptoms, including hesitancy or straining to urinate, painful urination, dripping after urination, increased urinary frequency, and a feeling that the bladder is not quite empty.

BPH is a rather poorly understood condition in terms of what is at work in the body to produce it. It is estimated that this condition costs American men over $1 billion per year.

Herbal remedies versus conventional drugs for BPH

A number of conventional drugs are used in the treatment of BPH, most notable finasteride. Several clinical studies have shown that, over a placebo, it produces moderate improvement. In Europe, up to 90 percent of BPH patients are treated with phytopharmaceuticals, or plant-derived medicinal products, some of which are herbs.

A survey of German urologists also indicated that as many as 50 percent of these physicians prefer natural plant-based treatments to those including chemical drugs.

The four primary plant materials used in Germany and other European countries (and progressively in the United States) for the treatment of BPH include: Pygeum extracts, pumpkin seed oil, and extracts of saw palmetto fruits. Our primary focus will be on saw palmetto, but let's take a brief look at the others, too.

Four phytomedicinals that show promise in the treatment of BPH

Pygeum comes from an African tree (Prunus africana), sometimes referred to by its now-obsolete botanical name, Pygeum africana. Root extracts of the stinging nettle plant (Urtica dioica) are of increasing interest in the treatment of BPH, as is pumpkin seed oil. Extracts of the fruits (berries) of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) are the best known herbal treatments for BPH.

Over 100 years of known benefit

By the 1890's, the effect of the fruit preparation on the male reproductive organs became known. An "original communication" in the July 1892 issue of The New Idea stated that "It also exerts a great influence over the organs of reproduction, mammoa, ovarium, prostate, testes, etc. Its action on them is a vitalizer, and is said to be the greatest known, tending to increase their activity [...]."

Largely used Eclectic physicians in the United States into the 1920's, an interesting comment in the 21st edition of the United States Dispensatory, published in 1926, suggested saw palmetto's use for the future. The author's note: "It has been especially recommended in cases of enlarged prostate of old men."

A large multi-center study involving dozens of researchers in France, Scotland, England, Italy, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, Switzerland, and the United States compared the use of an extract of saw palmetto with the conventional drug, finasteride, in the treatment of 1,098 patients for 26 weeks at a supplement level of 160 mg (2 times a day, morning and evening). Finasteride was given at a dose of 5 mg per day in the morning (following manufacturer's stated dosage).

This study confirms that saw palmetto is as effective as conventional drugs in relieving symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia, while producing fewer side effects.

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