Perhaps it has already happened to you: the dreaded enlarged prostate, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). You may know there are numerous conventional medical options to treat this condition, but the idea of using natural treatments appeals to you. So which supplements can shrink the prostate?
What is BPH?
As men get older, the prostate cells have a tendency to proliferate, which causes the gland to gradually increase in size and press on the urethra and bladder. The result can be problems with urination, to varying degrees, among about half of men by age 60, rising up to about 90 percent of men by age 70. The urination problems can include urinary frequency, urinary urgency, dribbling, pain when urinating, urinating many times during the night, and difficulty getting urinary flow to begin and stop.
Long before we had a name for the symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate, our male ancestors were treating them with natural remedies. Today some of those natural remedies are available as supplements. Which ones can be most effective?
Which supplements can shrink the prostate?
Scientists have conducted varying amounts of research into the reliability, effectiveness, and safety of supplements for an enlarged prostate. Among the challenges facing these investigators and consumers is ensuring the viability and purity of the supplements, as they are not subject to the same scrutiny as medications. Another hurdle is that different studies utilize varying different supplements, so homogeneity (uniformness between studies) is difficult to determine.
That said, natural supplements that have demonstrated some positive ability to shrink an enlarged prostate and/or relieve symptoms of BPH are discussed here including:
- Saw palmetto
- Pollen; and
- Stinging nettle
Beta-sitosterol for shrinking the prostate
Beta-sitosterol is a type of substance known as a phytosterol, which is found in a number of plants, including vegetable oils, avocados, pistachios and other nuts, fava beans, soybeans, lentils, pomegranates, and margarine. Although beta-sitosterol does not actually cause the prostate to shrink, it may help relieve symptoms of BPH.
Saw palmetto for shrinking the prostate
Research results concerning the effectiveness of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) for BPH are conflicting. In a 2011 review of the use of saw palmetto for BPH, published in Therapeutic Advances in Urology, the authors reported that “Most of the published trials regarding Serenoa repens phytotherapy demonstrate a significant improvement of urinary status” and that use of saw palmetto extracts “are very promising.” At the same time, the investigators also urged for more “high-quality, randomized, placebo-controlled studies” to establish the true value of saw palmetto products.
The authors of a 2013 study noted that liquid saw palmetto supplements seem to be the best option for men who want the highest concentrations of phytosterols. In addition, it’s important to mention that although saw palmetto contains beta-sitosterol, the amount in supplements is generally very small and therefore not of much benefit. Some of the studies have uncovered another possible benefit of saw palmetto: improvement in erectile dysfunction.
Pygeum for shrinking the prostate
Pygeum, which is derived from the African plum tree, has shown some success in the treatment of BPH symptoms. More specifically, men who have used pygeum have had to get up less often during the night to urinate, and during the day they have experienced a stronger urine stream and less frequent trips to the bathroom. The ability of pygeum to physically shrink the prostate also has been observed.
Rye grass pollen for shrinking the prostate
Three types of grass pollen make up rye grass pollen extract: rye, corn, and timothy. Studies of this natural supplement for treatment of an enlarged prostate is scarce, but at least one review reported that men who took rye grass pollen experience an improvement in nighttime urination when compared with placebo. This study had several limitations, including the fact that it lasted only six months, and it did not explore how rye grass pollen worked when pitted against prescription drugs.
The limited number of studies conducted on the effectiveness of rye grass pollen for BPH have lacked sufficient data and had a small number of participants. The available evidence indicates that Cernilton (rye grass pollen) is well tolerated and provides a modest improvement in urinary symptoms.
Stinging nettle for shrinking the prostate
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is commonly used to help relieve symptoms of an enlarged prostate, even though few studies support its use. In a 2005 placebo-controlled trial involving 558 patients, 81 percent of the patients in the stinging nettle group reported an improvement in symptoms compared with 16 percent in the placebo group. Men in the stinging nettle group experienced a modest decrease in prostate size (from 40.1 cc initially to 36.3 cc).
Although there are many more supplements that have been named as being helpful in shrinking the prostate, scientific studies have not supported their use at this point in time.
Geavlete P et al. Serenoa repens extract in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. Therapeutic Advances in Urology 2011 Aug; 3(4): 193-98
Keehn A, Lowe FC. Complementary and alternative medications for benign prostatic hyperplasia. Canadian Journal of Urology 2015 Oct; 22 Suppl 1:18-23
MacDonald R et al. A systematic review of Cernilton for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. BJU International 2000 May; 85(7): 836-41
Penugonda K, Lindshield BL. Fatty acid and phytosterol content of commercial saw palmetto supplements. Nutrients 2013 Sep; 5(9): 3617-33
Safarinejad MR. Urtica dioica for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy 2005; 5(4): 1-11