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The prostate is a small organ that can cause big problems. Located right near the bladder in males, its job is to make the fluid in which sperm can travel (semen). As men age and hormone levels shift, the prostate undergoes inevitable changes. These changes can go unnoticed or can cause a real decrease in quality of life.
Benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) is one condition of the prostate in which the gland becomes enlarged. Males can experience this intermittently in their youth, but it becomes extremely common with age. In fact, BPH is present in varying degrees in most men over the age of fifty.
For some, the effects of BPH are so mild that they are not even aware of this enlargement. Others, however, experience very uncomfortable symptoms including frequent urination, inability to completely empty the bladder, and bacterial infections. A particularly annoying symptom of BPH is nocturia, or frequent waking at night to urinate.
Prostatitis is another condition that can affect the prostate. This painful inflammation of the prostate can be caused by bacteria or other factors like stress and lifestyle. Acute bacterial prostatitis can be treated with antibiotics. The type caused by factors other than bacteria is harder to treat and can be a frustrating chronic condition called chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS).
The prostate can also develop cancer. Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in men (the first is skin cancer). Nearly 175,000 new cases are diagnosed every year in the U.S. according to the American Cancer Society.
Although changes in the prostate gland will occur in most men at some point, supplements can be used to help keep it functioning at its best.
8 Helpful Supplements for the Prostate
Here is a list of 8 supplements to consider taking for prostate health:
Cernilton (aka Bee Pollen Or Rye Pollen)
Bee pollen is a mixture of substances – flower pollen, wax, bee saliva, nectar, and honey – that is collected and used as a nutritional supplement. It is very rich in nutrients and biological substances and has been used for thousands of years to treat a vast array of ailments. The flavonoid and phenolic compounds in bee pollen have been credited with many of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and overall health-promoting qualities. (1)
Cernilton is a specific type of bee pollen that is created when bees pollinate rye, and it is the one that’s been used in studies for prostate health. It’s been shown to reduce inflammation of the prostate and improve symptoms associated with prostate enlargement. (1, 2)
In one study, men ages 62 to 89 with BPH took 126 mg of cernilton per day for 12 weeks. During that time, they experienced better urine flow rate. While there was no actual decrease in prostate size during the 12-week period, those who continued treatment for a year did see a slight decrease in prostatic volume. (3)
Bee pollen also has the potential to reduce the pain associated with inflammation in nonbacterial prostatitis, as well as in the initial stages of prostatic cancer. Studies have shown that when used with chemotherapy, people reported a significant therapeutic benefit. (4)
How to use cernilton/bee pollen:
Bee pollen can be added to smoothies or beverages or taken in capsules.
Those with bee allergies should use with caution.
For BHP, 126 mg of cernilton taken 3 times a day was shown to be effective in studies. (5)
Related: Our list of the 10 best bee pollen products.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa Repens)
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), is a plant native to the southeastern United States. It has long been used safely and successfully as a therapy for enlarged prostate and pelvic pain in Europe. An extract under the trade name Permixon is approved in France and Germany for treatment of BPH.
Some researchers think that saw palmetto works by preventing the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone. It is believed that dihydrotestosterone plays a role in prostate enlargement. Its anti-inflammatory properties may also have something to do with it. (6)
Numerous studies, many dating back quite a while, have demonstrated the efficacy of saw palmetto. While the specific results of the studies differ depending on factors such as dosage, length of study, severity of condition, etc., they generally indicate that saw palmetto use improves urinary symptoms and quality of life. (7, 8)
In fact, a 1988 review of studies reported that saw palmetto was about as effective as the drug finasteride in improving symptoms related to BPH. What’s more, users of saw palmetto experienced about a 90% lower incidence of side effects compared with finasteride, including the side effect of erectile dysfunction. (8)
Despite the evidence, the efficacy of saw palmetto has been called into question. The problem is that many researchers believe that earlier studies with saw palmetto were poorly designed or too short in duration. Newer studies with better designs have since been published that defend saw palmetto’s use in treating BPH. In 2000, a review even suggested that it may actually be the most effective and well tolerated phytotherapy for BPH studied thus far. (6, 7, 10)
How to take saw palmetto:
Saw palmetto is considered very safe. Side effects are mild and reversible and may include stomach upset, headache, fatigue, and decreased libido. (8)
Dosage varies depending on form. Generally, 60 mg taken twice a day has been shown to be effective in studies. (11)
Related: Our list of the 10 best bee pollen products.
Beta-sitosterol is a mixture of compounds isolated from plants such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. It is a fatty substance that can possibly best be described (in very loose, non-scientific terms) as the plant version of cholesterol.
In several studies, beta-sitosterol has shown to improve symptoms associated with BPH including improved urine flow rate and reduced residual volume. (12, 13, 14). One researcher even caught up with study participants 18 months later and found that the benefits of beta-sitosterol had not diminished. (15)
Researchers don’t yet know how beta-sitosterol exerts its beneficial effects. While it is believed to be very safe, its long-term safety hasn’t been totally established. (16)
How to use beta-sitosterol:
In the studies mentioned above, 20-130 mg of beta-sitosterol was used.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are nutritional celebrities so you may already be aware of what they are and why they’re so popular. EFAs are the omega-3 and omega-6 fats that your body needs but can’t make on its own. They can come from food sources or supplements and may have a place at the table when it comes to prostate health.
Dating back as far as 1941, studies have shown that low levels of EFAs are associated with prostate enlargement and increased risk of prostate cancer. Epidemiological studies have also demonstrated that men whose dietary intake is high in omega-3 fatty acids have a lower incidence of prostate cancer. (18, 19, 20)
In one experiment, men with BPH deficiencies who consumed EFAs experienced an improvement in urinary symptoms including reduced nocturia, fatigue, leg pain, cystitis, and prostate size. These men also reported an increase in libido. (20)
It’s believed that EFAs exert a beneficial effect on the prostate by reducing blood calcium levels and raising blood phosphorus and iodine levels. (20)
Recently, however, a study was published that challenges the idea that EFA supplementation can help protect or improve prostate health. It asserts that supplementing with too much “long chain” fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA (like in fish oil), can actually increase risk of developing prostate cancer. (21).
In response to these findings, some researchers are disagreeing with the results of this study and are publishing their reasons why they think the data is being misinterpreted. Many experts still think the benefits of taking EPA/DHA outweigh the risk. (22, 23)
How to use EFAs:
There are no specific dosage recommendations for how to use EFAs for prostate health. The studies indicate that even just avoiding a deficiency could provide some benefit.
The best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids (specifically, alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) include flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
The best sources of EPA and DHA, also known as the long chain fatty acids, include fatty fish such as salmon, herring and sardines. (23)
Related: Our list of the 10 best krill oil products.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)
Stinging nettle is a plant that grows widely throughout North America, Europe, North Africa and some parts of Asia. The leaves and roots are used for a variety of medicinal purposes. In Germany, stinging nettle is approved for use for BPH and is also used as a dietary supplement in the United States.
When combined with saw palmetto, it’s been shown to work similarly to the drug finasteride. In a 48-week study involving 543 patients with stage 1 to 2 BPH, those who took the saw palmetto/nettle preparation experienced similar improvements in maximum urinary flow, micturition volume, and micturition time. They experienced fewer of the side effects associated with finasteride including diminished ejaculation volume, erectile dysfunction and headache. (26)
In another study, 67 men over 60 years of age with BPH were given 5 ml/day of a stinging nettle root alcoholic tincture (1:5, 40% ethanol). After six months of treatment, symptoms of nocturia were alleviated, especially in less severe cases. (26)
How to take:
In studies, 300-600 mg/day of a dried herb preparation or 5 ml of an alcoholic fluid extract have been shown to be effective. Given the variation in products, it may be best to follow the directions on the label. No adverse reactions, contraindications or drug interactions are known. (26, 27)
Related: Our list of the 10 best nettle products.
Pygeum Africanum (African Plum)
The bark of the African plum tree is yet another botanical that can be used to treat lower urinary tract symptoms associated with prostate enlargement. An extract of African plum bark that has been trademarked under the name Tadenan is the form that’s been used in many of the clinical trials.
Scientists still aren’t sure why African plum bark helps to improve urinary function but there is evidence that it can help slow the growth of prostate cells, has a beneficial effect on hormone levels, and is an anti-inflammatory. Its mechanisms of action may be similar to those of saw palmetto. (28)
As for how well it works, one review suggests that while it’s possible that African plum is useful for BPH, the studies are too small, too short in duration, and too variable to make any definitive claims. (29)
Another review, however, concludes that African plum may indeed exert a mildly beneficial effect on symptoms. This review reported that men were more than twice as likely to report an improvement in overall symptoms including nocturia (reduced by 19%) residual urine volume (reduced by 24%), and peak urine flow (increased by 23%). (30)
How to use it:
50 mg twice daily or 100 mg once daily has been shown to be safe and effective. (27)
Given the variation in products, it may be best to follow the directions on the label.
Related: Our list of the 10 best pygeum products.
Exotic botanicals aren’t the only things that can help keep the prostate healthy. Even regular ol’ pumpkins have something to offer!
The seeds of the Curcubita pepo (pumpkin) are approved in Europe for treatment of stage 1 and 2 BPH. It’s unclear why they’re helpful, but some speculate that it has something to do with the specific fatty acids in pumpkin seeds. These fatty acids can encourage urination and/or exert a beneficial effect on hormones. (31)
Pumpkin seeds are also high in zinc, a mineral that is necessary for the body and highly concentrated in healthy prostate tissue. (32)
In one study, combining pumpkin seed with saw palmetto produced promising results. After 6 months, patients’ quality of life score improved and there was a decrease in their serum prostate specific antigen. In this case, these results were not seen with saw palmetto alone. (33)
Another study tested only a pumpkin seed preparation on 53 men with BPH. In addition to measurable improvements in urinary flow, frequency, and time spent urinating, they reported better subjective feelings about their symptoms. (31)
How to use pumpkin seeds:
Amino Acids (Glycine + Alanine + Glutamic Acid)
Amino acids are the compounds that combine to form proteins in the body. The body can make some and must obtain others from the diet.
Even though glycine, alanine, and glutamic acid are amino acids the body can make on its own, the combination of the three in supplemental form may be useful for prostate health. It’s unclear how they work but they appear to help reduce swelling of the prostate. (27)
There aren’t many studies focused on amino acids and the prostate. There are a few older ones, however, suggesting that a glycine/alanine/glutamic acid combination can reduce nocturia, frequent urge to urinate, and delayed micturition. No side effects were reported. (32, 33)
How to use amino acids:
In studies, 380 to 760 mg/day of the combined amino acids were used. Amino acid supplements are not recommended for people with kidney problems. (27)
While Mother Nature may have made the prostate vulnerable to problems, at least she also provided some effective, accessible and safe natural remedies. Many of the botanicals mentioned can be just as effective as drugs with far fewer side effects.
As always, it’s a good idea to consult your healthcare professional about any questions or concerns you may have about your particular situation.
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