Prostate (Benign Prostate Hyperplasia)

If you're a man over the age of 50, you probably have a prostate problem – usually a benign enlargment of the gland. Herbal and nutritional therapies can help ease discomfort and even preclude or delay the need for conventional drugs or surgery.

What is it?

These disorders typically cause urinary complaints because they affect the prostate, the walnut-size gland that is located below the bladder and surrounds the urethra (the tube that transports urine out of the bladder). By far the most common problem is BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or hypertrophy), a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate that occurs in more than half of men over the age of 50. The condition can progress for many years, with few or no symptoms at first, and is not a risk factor for developing prostate cancer. But be sure to see your doctor to rule out cancer and prostate inflammation (prostatitis), which are more serious.

What causes it?

As men age, the prostate typically enlarges. No one is sure why this happens, though male sex hormones may play a role. Depending on the degree of enlargement, the prostate can press against the urethra and impede the flow of urine, causing the symptoms of BPH. Less often, men develop prostatitis, which is usually caused by a bacterial infection that begins elsewhere in the urinary tract, or cancer. In these conditions, swelling of the prostate or growth of a tumour can disrupt urine flow.

What are the symptoms?

  • Frequent, urgent need to urinate, particularly at night.
  • Difficulty or hesitancy in urinating; inability to empty the bladder.
  • A weak urine system or dribbling.
  • Burning during urination, fever, chills, pain behind the scrotum, or painful ejaculation.

Are there any natural therapies?

One of the key nutrient for prostate health, zinc has been shown to reduce the size of the gland and relieve BPH symptoms. You may need extra copper if you're taking zinc for longer than a month. Taking extra vitamin E can aid in preserving prostate health. As an antioxidant, it scavenges free radicals that can damage DNA and lead to cancer.

Herbs may also help relieve symptoms of BPH and slow prostate growth. Saw palmetto, the best researched and most popular of these, can be very effective, partly by altering hormone levels. It may also help to curb inflammation and swelling in chronic cases of prostatitis. If saw palmetto alone is not sufficient, try adding the herb Epilobium parviflorum, which may be beneficial for BPH of prostatitis because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Either or both can be combined with nettle, which may boost their ability to ease symptoms and slow down the progression of BPH.

Additional nutrients are recommended. The essential fatty acids in flaxseed oil help prevent the swelling and inflammation of the prostate in BPH and prostatitis. In addition, the amino acids glycine, alanine and glutamine, taken together each morning on an empty stomach, may help relieve symptoms, though they don't slow prostate growth. (These amino acids, however, are often contraindicated in prostate cancer.)

What else can I do?

  • Don't take decongestants or other over-the-counter cold remedies. They can make symptoms worse.
  • To help reduce urinary complaints, avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, especially beer. Drink less liquid in the evening.

Did you know?

Foods rich in soy may benefit men with prostate problems. Tofu, miso and other soy products contain healing substances called isoflavones that may help protect against prostate enlargement and prostate cancer.