A number of natural medicines can help alleviate the worst symptoms of prostate problems, says Dr Harald Gaier
My husband, Parnell, wakes me up several times every night because he needs to urinate-and it's not just frequent, it's also urgent! He's only 61, yet he complains of a weak urinary flow that often seems to shoot off in unexpected directions. What also bothers me is that his sexual performance has become weak too. This is not the man I've been happily married to for 19 years, but he refuses point blank to see the GP. He says he's too embarrassed.
I've looked up prostate problems on the internet and know there's a common male condition called 'benign prostatic hyperplasia' (BPH), but it could also be prostate cancer. I've tried to discuss this with him and pleaded with him to get a proper diagnosis, but he just shuts down. Please give me your advice.
Evelynn H., Chester, UK
You need to persist and broach the topic with Parnell at regular intervals. His problem is likely to gradually get worse, so he may eventually relent and agree to get a proper diagnosis. It's important for him to know whether it's BPH or prostate cancer because an early diagnosis in case of the latter means there's a good chance the cancer can be resolved surgically.
But, for now, I can give you some information about natural botanical medicines that should offer symptomatic improvement for his irksome complaints.
Herbal remedies for BPH
Serenoa repens(saw palmetto) leaves and roots, made into decoctions, were used by the Mayas and Houma Amerinds to treat what we call 'kidney problems'. In the late 1800s, homeopathic and naturopathic physicians prescribed the berries to treat diseases of the male genitourinary tract. In fact, a vast number of published studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of S. repens for male complaints like BPH, urinary tract inflammation, nocturia (night-time urination), increased urinary frequency, reduced calibre and force of urine flow, painful urination and urethral irritation.1
African plum tree(Pygeum africanum or Prunus africana) bark extract has produced similar results as Serenoa in published studies,2 and a review of 18 randomized controlled trials found that a standardized Pygeum extract had beneficial effects on urinary problems and BPH.3 Tadenan (made by Debat Laboratories, France) is a plant extract used in Europe for the treatment of micturition (urination) disorders associated with BPH and bladder dysfunction.4
Pumpkin seed(Cucurbita pepo) oil at 320 mg/day has also been shown to improve symptoms of BPH, quality of life and urinary flow after three to six months.5 Over the past century, an infusion of these seeds has been used by homeopaths for men with painful urination with a sense of constriction and backache.6 A registered naturopath or medical herbalist could prescribe these for your husband to deal with BPH.
He-Shou-Wu root(fleeceflower root; Polygonum multiflorum) is used in Oriental Medicine to counteract, among other disorders, night-time incontinence and nocturnal emissions.7 However, please note that the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued an alert in 2006 that this herbal is suspected of having adverse liver reactions.8 For this reason, you may wish to avoid using any remedies containing this ingredient.
Plant remedies for prostate cancer
This is the most common cancer in men in the industrialized West, but preventative measures have yet to be established. The following are promising herbs and supplements for the condition.
Lycopene.This carotenoid is a natural compound derived largely from tomato-based products. According to a major review by Professor Edward Giovannucci from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School,9 epidemiological studies have suggested potential benefits with eating lots of tomatoes (for lycopene) to protect against prostate cancer, particularly its more lethal forms, with a 30-40 per cent reduction in risk, although some studies could find no benefits at all.
In the Health Professionals Follow-up Study of men, which ran from 1986 to 1998, he and his colleagues found that eating two to four servings of tomato sauce a week led to about a 35 per cent risk reduction of total prostate cancer, and a 50 per cent reduction of advanced prostate cancer (those spreading beyond the prostate).10
However, other studies, mostly dietary case-controlled studies, have not been as supportive of the hypothesis.
The reasons for the inconsistent findings could be that tomato consumption or blood lycopene levels were too low to produce any effect and that, as levels of lycopene vary widely in different foods, dietary questionnaires will also vary markedly in how well they reflect lycopene concentrations in different individuals.
In future, it may be better to measure lycopene levels in a population more directly. Nevertheless, what data there are do suggest that eating more tomatoes (preferably cooked) and tomato-based products is probably a good idea.9
Panax ginseng(Korean ginseng) root extract (after heat-processing) has demonstrated non-organ-specific anti-tumour effects in one prospective study in Korea, and in animal and epidemiological (population) studies too.11 But be sure not to confuse Panax ginseng with American or Siberian ginseng, or Panax pseudo-ginseng (Nepalese or Himalayan ginseng).
HMRlignanTM(lignan extracted from Norwegian spruce) is a polyphenol with anticancer, antioxidant and oestrogenic activities. It has demonstrated a specific anti-tumour effect in the prostate.12
CernitinTM(cernilton), a Swedish flower pollen extract, contains a number of active substances. Two specific fractions have been identified after extraction: T60TM is a water-soluble fraction; and GBXTM is a fat-soluble fraction, containing natural rancidity inhibitors. Together these fractions comprise a range of compounds including vitamins, amino acids, nucleic acids, minerals, long-chain alcohols, unsaturated fatty acids, prostaglandin precursors, enzymes and plant hormones.
Cernilton has been studied in conditions involving immune function and liver support, but the majority of the research has looked at the effect of the pollen on prostatitis, or chronic prostate inflammation that is not due to other conditions like muscle strain, trauma or infection.
In one study, researchers gave the pollen extract to 15 patients, aged 23 to 63 years and diagnosed with chronic prostatitis or prostatodynia (prostatic or pelvic pain), for one to 18 months. By the end of the study, seven patients were symptom-free, six had significantly improved and only two didn't respond. Two patients had a recurrence of symptoms, but this cleared when the treatment was begun again.
The researchers concluded that cernilton was "effective in the treatment of chronic prostatitis and prostatodynia' and the studies suggest it has 'anti-inflammatory and antiandrogenic properties."13
Grape seed extract(derived from whole grape seeds, which have high concentrations of vitamin E, flavonoids, linoleic acid and phenolic procyanidins) has proved effective against cancer cells by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death).
The University of Colorado Cancer Center published a report online ahead of print in the journal Nutrition and Cancer (November 2013), describing how their laboratory-synthesized version of the most active component of grape seed extract-dubbed B2G2-kills prostate cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
Finally, I must repeat that you really should continue trying to persuade your husband to obtain a definitive diagnosis for his condition-not just for his peace of mind, but for yours too.
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