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by Eva Urbaniak, N.D.
It is now official. "Baby-boomers" are approaching or have already reached their 50's. Although both men and women have to deal with their respective health issues associated with getting older, one condition continues to appear in men, more frequently, and earlier on. BPH or Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, affects only males, and is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. The prostate gland produces a fluid associated with a man's sexual functioning, providing a nutrient liquid for sperm. It sits at the base of the bladder and envelops the urethra. If the prostate gland enlarges, it can put so much pressure on the urethra that it blocks the passage of urine, a potential life threatening situation if the urine backs up into the kidneys, and can make ejaculation painful or reversed.

BPH is found in 50% of men aged 60, increasing to 90% at age 85. BPH can be present to any degree and may or may not cause any symptoms at all. In fact, in men who have cellular changes identified microscopically, only 50% will show any detectable enlargement, and of these, only 50% will develop any symptoms. Those who do develop symptoms don't necessarily worsen over time, and interestingly, symptom severity does not correlate well with prostate size or urinary outlet obstruction. Some men are simply more sensitive to any irritation or swelling.

Common symptoms associated with BPH are a sensation of incomplete voiding of the bladder after urinating, urinating too often, weak stream, pushing and straining to start the urine stream, and waking often at night to urinate. (Lift suggestion) Although BPH is a common problem, it is poorly understood. The general consensus among conventional doctors is that BPH is an inevitable and irreversible condition caused by aging, changing levels of sex hormones, insulin, prolactin, and growth factors. I don't agree. And apparently, I am not alone. The following true story illustrates my point.

Recently, I went to a club to watch a friend perform with his musical group. I sat at a table with a very pleasant "young" man. I thought he might be 35-40 years old. I was shocked to find out he was a very young-looking 54. When he heard I was a naturopath, he cheerfully volunteered that he takes "Saw Palmet-to," every day, carefully pronouncing the herb correctly. I was impressed. When I asked if he had prostate trouble, he replied, "No," but that he was taking it as a preventative measure to guarantee he doesn't get prostate problems in the future. Here was a man who had educated himself about herbs, vitamins and minerals, and was taking them to be healthier, along with some dietary and lifestyle changes.

BPH can be called a 20th century ailment. Its appearance and incidence has increased with the advent of "xenobiotics" such as pesticides and inorganic fertilizers contaminated with industrial pollutants, not to mention hormones in the food supply. Human glandular tissue is particularly vulnerable to such substances. Testing for heavy metals through the use of hair analysis is fairly inexpensive, and can be very revealing. (Although herbs are nutrient rich substances, sometimes it is necessary to do a bit of "chelation" and eliminate heavy metals by taking antioxidants like reduced L-Glutathione or N-Acetyl Cysteine.) Other substances that are very destructive to the genito-urinary system are alcohol and coffee.

Herbs can be our allies in creating a healthier future. It is never too late to learn about herbal medicines and apply them in our lives. Living more naturally and implementing herbal healing BEFORE problems appear is a conscious choice, not something that happens by accident. As a greater portion of the population seeks alternative methods of healing, men can take some very important steps towards health with the use of some simple herbs.

Unfortunately, conventional medicine has fallen short of providing any working solutions for men with BPH. Pharmaceutical intervention, or as one patient called it, "chemical castration," is not a workable situation for most men. The ultimate cause of BPH is an excess of 5-alpha-dihydrotestosterone, converted in the prostate and other target tissues by the enzyme, 5-alpha-reductase, from free circulating testosterone. The problem with many of the drugs used to treat BPH, is that the enzyme and hormone-blocking activity is so far-reaching and so profound, that men are impaired, physically and emotionally if their sexual functioning comes to a screeching halt. There is also a "re-bound effect" if a man stops taking the drug. The condition usually returns and often becomes worse.

Finasteride, or Proscar, a 5-alpha-reductase enzyme and hormone blocking drug originally used for BPH and prostate cancer, appears to have another side effect, (hair re-growth in men with male pattern baldness) so the same drug which was shown to be ineffective for BPH has found a new market. Proscar and Propecia are the same drug with different names! Do drug companies really just assume the consumer is so ignorant as to not notice? Surgical intervention is also invasive and has many risks. Balloon dilation of the urethra is a little less invasive in cases of severe impedance of urine flow. Although these treatments are sometimes necessary to allow the passage of urine from the body, they are only mechanical solutions, and do not address the underlying problem.

Herbs to the rescue! Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is an example of an herb which is ideally suited for a specific condition like BPH. Named after the sharp-edged leaves of this scrubby palm commonly found in the southern part of North America (literally, small saw-like palm), the berry-like fruit of the saw palmetto plant is rich in flavonoids, fatty acids, beta-sitosterol, enzymes and polysaccharides. It is the fatty acids in saw palmetto that give it its unique aroma, and can cause mild stomach upset in some men. Taking it with food can alleviate this. The actions of saw palmetto are primarily anti-inflammatory, as an endocrine support, an anti-spasmodic, and anti-androgenic (meaning anti-"male" hormone). It reduces the pain and swelling of an enlarged prostate. The anti-spasmodic properties of saw palmetto are twofold; it helps the bladder muscles contract for more complete voiding of the bladder, but soothes the pain and spasms sometimes associated with it.

Saw palmetto inhibits 5-alpha-reductase and binds to androgens, making it a very effective treatment for BPH. It also contains other compounds, some of them still unknown, which heal and nourish the prostate gland making it possible to halt and even reverse BPH, with none of the side effects experienced with the drug therapies. (1)
And why take a drug, with all its negative side effects, when this incredible herb can not only treat a specific condition like BPH, but also strengthen, tonify, and nourish a gland, organ or system? Saw palmetto is being extensively used as a preventive. It contains selenium, iron, chromium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, silicon, and vitamins A and C.(2)

Buchu Leaf (Barosma betulina) is often found in combination formulas, and may not be as well known as other herbs, but is indicated for every single symptom associated with BPH. It is an effective treatment for painful urination, irritation, pelvic congestion, urethritis, cystitis, kidney and bladder inflammations and infections, and "irritable bladder," something that plagues some men even after successful treatment for BPH. Buchu has a pungent aroma, due to its high volatile oil content, and its actions are mostly anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and antiseptic. Another reason buchu should be used in treating prostate dysfunction is that is very soothing to the pelvic nerves. (3)

Couch Grass Root (Agropyron repens or Triticum repens) is another often overlooked herbal medicine that specifically treats enlarged prostate. It also helps reduce uncontrollable urination, and burning and painful urination. It is loaded with nutrients, carotene, inulin, glycoside, inositol, mucilage, potassium, polysaccharides, and vitamin C. It also has blood-purifying properties. One word of caution with couchgrass: it should not be used if there is blood present in the urine. Horsetail extract would be a better choice. (4)

All three of these herbs can most probably be found in combination formulas in your health food store, or local herbalist shop. A tincture dissolved in water is a good way to take any of these, especially because it is very important to drink water. For example, into a glass of room temperature water, 10 to 15 drops of couchgrass root tincture, 8 to10 drops of saw palmetto tincture, and 10 to 15 drops of buchu leaf tincture, drunk three to four times a day. Tea is also a good way to take these herbs, thereby insuring adequate water drinking.

  1. Professional Review (Not for Public Distribution). Saw Palmetto--- A Critical Review MediHerb Series Nos. 60 and 61. 1998 Publisher: MediHerb Pty Ltd. A. C. N. 006 454 717 P. O. Box 713, Warwick, Queensland, Australia Editor: Kerry Bone
    (Sending a copy with hard copy, fax or U.S. Mail)
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  3. Williams, Jude C., M.H., N. D. Nature's Gentle Cures---Safe and Effective Healing Therapies 1997 Sterling Publishing Company New York, New York. pp. 94 through 99.
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  5. Tilgner, Sharol, N. D. Herbal Medicine From The Heart Of The Earth 1999 Wise Acres Press, Inc. Creswell, Oregon p. 42
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  7. Williams, Jude C., N. D. Nature's Gentle Cures---Safe and Effective Healing Therapies 1997 Sterling Publishing Company New York, New York p. 104
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