Enlargement of the prostate or Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

As men age, it is very common for them to develop a non-cancerous condition called Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia or BPH, where the prostate becomes enlarged. This condition generally start development around the age of 50, and most men byond 60 generally have some degree of BPH.  

The condition makes urination difficult and uncomfortable. Your prostate gland is located underneath your bladder and surrounds your urethra, which empties urine from the bladder. As the prostate gland expands, it squeezes the urethra or causes the muscles around the urethra to contract, making it difficult to urinate.

Source: Benign prostatic hyperplasia | University of Maryland Medical Center

    Medication for the condition generally falls into two categories:
  • Alpha blockers -- Also known as alpha-adrenergic antagonists, these medicines cause the muscles around your bladder to relax, making it easier to urinate.
  • Enzyme inhibitors -- Also known as 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors, these medicines shrink the prostate gland by reducing the amount of testosterone the body converts into dihydrotestosterone, a hormone the prostate needs to grow.

Saw palmetto appears to act as an enzyme inhibitor by preventing testosterone from being converted into dihydrotestosterone (needed for prostate growth) in the body.  A European study showed that half of German urologists preferred saw palmetto over pharmaceuticals for treatment of BPH. However, it does not shrink the overall prostate, but shrinks the inner lining of the gland. It should be noted that, unlike previous studies, a newer, high quality study found that saw palmetto had no effect on BPH symptoms. Talk to your doctor if you want to try saw palmetto for your symptoms, and look for a fat soluble saw palmetto extract that has been standardized to contain 85% - 95% fatty acids and sterols.

Pygeum or African plum extract has been used historically for urinary problems. In several scientific studies, pygeum relieved BPH symptoms including increased urination at night and improved urine flow.

Grass pollen (Secale cereale) -- Two studies that compared a standardized extract of rye grass pollen to placebo found that the grass pollen improved BPH symptoms, including reducing frequency of nighttime urination and the amount of urine left in the bladder. One study also indicated that grass pollen decreased the size of the prostate as measured by ultrasound. The brand of rye grass pollen most often used in studies is Cernilton. People who have allergies to grass pollens should not take grass pollen supplements.

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