Straining to urinate? Weak urinary stream? Getting up multiple times each night to urinate? If you are experiencing symptoms like these, it may indicate a problem with your prostate. The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland responsible for adding fluid to the ejaculate. With age, hormonal changes can occur to the prostate that can bring on a variety of urinary problems commonly referred to as lower urinary tract symptoms or LUTS. These issues are usually divided into obstructive or irritative symptoms. Straining, weak stream, hesitancy and dribbling are types of obstructive problems, while urinary frequency, nighttime urination and urgency are irritative types of problems. Although there are many effective prescription medications available to treat this condition, there are an equal number of natural supplements that can be helpful for prostate health.
Should I try saw palmetto?
Probably the best known and publicized supplement for prostate health is saw palmetto. Early research initially showed significant benefits from saw palmetto. It was felt that it may shrink the inner lining of the prostate gland and decrease inflammation. More recent studies, however, have revealed that saw palmetto may not be as effective as originally believed. Two high-quality studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health demonstrated that it was no more beneficial than placebo in reducing lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). With conflicting evidence, at this time saw palmetto cannot be recommended as a viable treatment option.
Beta-sitosterol is another well-known supplement used to help prostate symptoms, however the data is much more favorable than with saw palmetto. Beta-sitosterol can be best thought of as a plant derived “good” cholesterol. It is thought to work by blocking the receptors in the prostate gland tissue that cause it to proliferate. Multiple trials have shown that it significantly improves urinary symptoms. Studies published in The Lancet and The British Journal of Urology both demonstrated improvements in both urinary flow and LUTS. Typical doses of beta-sitosterol used in these studies ranged from 30 mg to 90 mg daily.
Rye grass pollen
Likely because of it’s high beta-sitosterol content, rye grass pollen has research to support their use in treating lower urinary tract symptoms. Two double blinded, controlled studies appearing in The British Journal of Urology and Urologe found that grass pollen extract were significantly effective. In the first study, 69% of the participants who had been taking the grass pollen had reduced the number of trips they had to make to the bathroom at night. In the placebo group, only 37% reported improvement in this symptom. The amount of urine remaining in the bladder following urination was also reduced in the treatment group.
The second study also showed statistically significant improvements in nighttime frequency of urination and emptying of the bladder with use of grass pollen extract. Additionally, 69% of the participants receiving treatment reported overall improvement, while only 29% of the group taking the placebo felt they had improved—another statistically significant difference. The typical dose of rye grass pollen in 80-120 mg daily.
Also known as African plum tree, pygeum tree bark has been used since ancient times to treat urinary problems. Today, pygeum is primarily used for treatment of LUTS. Some evidence shows that it can shrink prostate cells and inhibit growth factors that lead to prostate hyperplasia. A European study using 100 mg of pygeum daily showed a significant decrease in nighttime urination and improvement in urine flow. Another article published in Current Medical Research Opinion demonstrated increases in urinary flow rate and decreased daytime frequency. There is also suggestion that pygeum’s effects may augmented with use of nettle root.
Nettle root is another supplement with a long history of use for prostate related symptoms. It is widely used in Germany and seems to work similarly to pygeum by shrinking prostate cells, but may also block the effects of hormones that can lead to prostate enlargement. The research supporting nettle root is not completely clear since many studies have evaluated it in products that also contain pygeum or saw palmetto. An article published in the World Journal of Urology showed that a combination product containing 120 mg of nettle root with 160 mg of saw palmetto significantly improved LUTS. Another study published in the Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy, illustrated similar findings with use of nettle root by itself.
Take home message
For men looking to natural medicines to help treat their lower urinary tract symptoms, there are many good treatment options. Beta-sitosterol, pygeum, rye grass pollen and nettle root all have research to support their use. It is important to give these treatments several weeks to work, since improvements are gradual.