The prostate grows

The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland that wraps around the urethra, the tube that urine flows out of. The prostate is part of the male reproductive system. One of its main jobs, along with other organs, is to add fluid to semen. This is the fluid that carries sperm.

The prostate gland starts out small and has two main phases of growth. It doubles in size during the teenage years, then continues to grow again after age 25 throughout the rest of a man’s life.

An excessively enlarged prostate results in a disease known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Eventually, an enlarged prostate can clamp down on the urethra and restrict the flow of urine from the bladder. This leads to problems such as:

Read about natural remedies that may improve some BPH symptoms.

Enlarged prostate treatments

There are several treatment options for an enlarged prostate. You can take alpha-blockers such as terazosin (Hytrin) or tamsulosin (Flomax) to help relax the prostate and bladder muscles.

You can also take dutasteride (Avodart) or finasteride (Proscar), a different kind of medication for reducing BPH symptoms. These block the hormones that cause the prostate to grow.

Combinations of these two different types of medications may also be recommended. Your doctor might also recommend surgery to remove the extra prostate tissue. One common surgical procedure for BPH is known as transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP).

There are also natural remedies that may work to combat enlarged prostate symptoms. However, the evidence is debatable on whether these treatments actually work. The American Urological Association currently doesn’t recommend any herbal therapy for managing BPH.

If you do want to try any of these natural remedies, talk to your doctor first. Some herbal treatments can interact with prescription medications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the quality or purity of herbal supplements. This means there can be a lack of consistent ingredients.

Saw palmetto

Saw palmetto is an herbal remedy that comes from the fruit of a type of palm tree. It’s been used in alternative medicine for centuries to relieve urinary symptoms, including those caused by an enlarged prostate. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a few small-scale studies have suggested that saw palmetto might be effective for relieving BPH symptoms.

However, the NIH reports that when larger studies were conducted, they didn’t find saw palmetto any more effective than a placebo. Research continues to look into the anti-inflammatory and hormone-blocking properties that saw palmetto may have and its possible use in combination with other medications. Saw palmetto is safe to use, but minor side effects can be upset stomach and headache.

Beta-sitosterol

This herbal medication is a mixture taken from different plants that contain cholesterol-like substances called sitosterols or phytosterols (plant-based fats). Several studies have suggested that beta-sitosterol can relieve urinary symptoms of BPH, including the strength of urine flow. Some scientists have also suggested that it’s these fatty substances — like beta-sitosterol, which is also found in saw palmetto — that are actually doing the work.

There haven’t been any major side effects reported with the use of beta-sitosterol. However, doctors still don’t know all the long-term effects of this natural therapy.

Pygeum

Pygeum comes from the bark of the African plum tree and has been used in traditional medicine to treat urinary problems since ancient times. It’s often used to treat BPH symptoms, especially in Europe. Because studies on it haven’t been well-designed, it’s hard to know for sure whether it’s effective.

According to the Canadian Journal of Urology, some small studies have suggested the supplement can help with bladder emptying and urine flow. However, the studies reviewed were inconsistent. Pygeum does appear safe to use, but it can cause upset stomach and headache in some people who take it. There are no studies on long-term safety.

Rye grass pollen extract

Rye grass pollen extract is made from three types of grass pollen: rye, timothy, and corn. A review of herbal studies published in BJU International found that in one study, men who were taking rye grass pollen extract reported an improvement in their nighttime symptoms of getting up to urinate, compared to those who were taking a placebo. However, this study lasted only six months. It didn’t look at how well the supplement worked compared to prescription medications.

Stinging nettle

You’ll know if you’ve accidently touched the common European stinging nettle: The hairs on its leaves can cause a sharp jolt of intense pain. But stinging nettle may have some benefits when used as a medicine.

Nettle root is thought to improve some BPH symptoms, and is commonly used in Europe. However, a 2007 review concluded that more studies were needed. Currently, there’s no strong scientific evidence to suggest that it’s more effective than no treatment at all.

Sometimes nettle is used in combination with other natural BPH treatments, such as pygeum or saw palmetto. Side effects from nettle are usually mild, including upset stomach and skin rash.

Foods to treat BPH

The role of diet in the prevention of BPH and in treating its symptoms continues to be explored.

A recent four-year study in China looked at the effects of diet on BPH symptoms. Researchers found that men with diets high in fruits and vegetables — especially leafy, dark vegetables and tomatoes — had less BPH, less symptoms of BPH, and were less likely to have worsening of their BPH. Researchers believe it’s not just one nutrient, but rather the combinations found in a healthful diet and lifestyle, that are beneficial.

Going the natural route

It’s important to remember that just because a supplement is labeled “natural” doesn’t always mean it’s safe, healthy, or effective. Remember that the FDA doesn’t regulate herbal remedies like it does prescription and over-the-counter drugs. That means you can’t be totally sure that what’s listed on the label is inside the bottle.

Herbal remedies can also cause side effects and interact with other medications you take. Check with your doctor before trying any natural supplement.