Waking up several times a night to use the bathroom. Difficulty getting started and stopping. Feeling like your bladder doesn’t completely empty. These are the signs and symptoms of age-related prostate enlargement, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). And for men in their 60s and older, they’re as common as gray hair.
BPH isn’t the only problem that affects the prostate. Prostatitis is a painful inflammatory condition, often caused by a bacterial infection that affects men of all ages. Prostate cancer, which the American Cancer Society reports will be diagnosed in one in eight men, is a serious concern, but only a small percentage of men will die from it—you’re 10 times more likely to die from heart disease than from prostate cancer.
Your best defense against all prostate problems is a healthy lifestyle and targeted supplements that support the prostate and reduce your risk of developing problems down the line. For age-related prostate enlargement, the most common concern, it goes beyond prevention. Natural therapies actually help shrink the prostate, improve symptoms of BPH, and enhance quality of life.
What Can Cause an Enlarged Prostate?
The prostate is a small gland, located just below the bladder, that produces the seminal fluid (semen) that transports sperm. Passing through the center of the prostate gland is the urethra, the tube that delivers urine from the bladder out through the penis.
During puberty, the prostate doubles in size. Then around age 25, it begins to slowly enlarge. Around age 40, the gland undergoes another growth spurt driven by changes in hormone levels. Specifically, there is an increase in levels of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, which converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and DHT promotes prostate growth.
If the prostate gets big enough to impinge on the urethra—as it does in the majority of men over age 60—it begins to block urinary flow, which leads to symptoms of BPH:
- Nighttime need to urinate (nocturia)
- Increased frequency and urgency
- Difficulty getting started
- Slow urinary stream
- Incomplete emptying
BPH is not life threatening, nor does it increase your risk of prostate cancer. But it can lead to complications such as urinary tract infections and complete blockage of urinary flow. Severe BPH requires prompt medical attention and treatment with medications and possibly surgery.
Top Herbal Supplements for Prostate Enlargement
Even if BPH isn’t severe, it can cause annoying symptoms that disrupt your sleep and interfere with your quality of life. The good news is that several herbal therapies have been shown to improve symptoms of mild to moderate BPH.
Flower Pollen (Graminex) has been used to treat prostate problems since the 1950s. A Swedish beekeeper, convinced that pollen had therapeutic potential, figured out how to extract and concentrate active constituents such as phytosterols, amino acids, flavonoids, and other antioxidants from rye grass pollen. Subsequent research has revealed multiple benefits of flower pollen for prostate health. In addition to improving prostate inflammation, urinary flow, bladder emptying, and nighttime trips to the bathroom, flower pollen extract has positive effects on prostatitis and general prostate health.
Suggested daily dose of flower pollen extract (Graminex G63 is a particularly good extract): 400 mg
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a small palm native to Florida and nearby states. Berries from this plant were used by Native Americans as a sexual tonic and a diuretic to increase urination. Today, saw palmetto extract is among the most popular and best-studied natural remedies for prostate enlargement. Saw palmetto inhibits the production of the 5-alpha reductase enzyme, which reduces DHT levels and slows prostate growth. Numerous clinical trials have found that saw palmetto berry extract significantly improves symptoms of BPH.
Suggested daily dose of saw palmetto: 320 mg
Nettle root’s (Urtica dioica) history as a medicinal herb goes way back. Galen, a Greek physician who lived in the first century A.D., reported several uses for nettle leaves and roots, including as a diuretic. In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, nettle root is a good source of phytosterols such as beta-sitosterol, which has been demonstrated to reduce symptoms of BPH. (Interestingly, beta-sitosterol is also used to lower cholesterol.) Research suggests this herb may slow the growth of prostate cancer cells.
Suggested daily dose of nettle root extract: 200–300 mg
Pygeum (Pygeum africanum) is extracted from the bark of a tree native to southern and central Africa. It has a long list of uses by traditional healers, but most of the scientific research on this botanical concerns urinary issues related to the prostate. Pygeum is rich in antioxidants and phytosterols and has significant anti-inflammatory activity. In clinical trials, pygeum has been shown to improve urinary flow and other problems related to BHP.
Suggested daily dose of pygeum: 100 mg
Note: Research reveals that these botanicals have a synergistic effect when taken together. I believe that the best prostate health supplements are multi-ingredient products that contain more than one of these herbs, plus supportive vitamins and minerals.
Prevention & Overall Prostate Support
The foundation of health, whether it’s your heart, brain, or prostate, is the same: a nutritious diet, regular exercise, restful sleep, stress management, and weight maintenance. I also recommend a good supplement program. Standout nutrients for prostate health include:
- Zinc: Renowned for its role in immune function, this mineral is especially concentrated in the prostate gland, and studies reveal significant reductions in zinc concentrations in the prostates of men who have prostate cancer. Additional research points to zinc’s benefits for prostate enlargement as well. Suggested daily dose: 15 mg
- Selenium: This mineral is a potent antioxidant and immune booster. Population studies have found links between higher blood levels of selenium and a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Suggested daily dose: 50 mcg
- Vitamin D: A low vitamin D status is associated with numerous diseases, including an increased risk of prostate cancer. More recent research also reveals links between vitamin D and prostate enlargement. Make sure you are taking enough vitamin D3 to maintain your blood level in the optimal range of 50-75 nmol/L. Suggested daily dose: 1,000–2,000 IU or more, depending on your vitamin D blood level
- Vitamin E: The whole gamut of vitamins is required for optimal health, but vitamin E really shines when it comes to the prostate. A good way to get vitamin E and other essential nutrients is to take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement—just make sure it’s natural vitamin E. Suggested daily dose: A high-potency multivitamin/mineral supplement, taken as directed
- Lycopene: Abundant in tomato sauce, kale, and broccoli, this carotenoid is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to protect against DNA damage. A hearty intake of lycopene is associated with a reduced risk of several types of cancer, and studies suggest that lycopene benefits for prostate cancer prevention are particularly noteworthy. Suggested daily dose: 2 mg
It’s Never Too Early…
Although most men don’t think about their prostates until problems arise, it’s a good idea to take preventive steps early on. Prostate enlargement doesn’t happen overnight. Supporting your prostate with good health habits plus natural therapies that help curb excessive prostate growth, beginning in your 40s or 50s, gives you a fighting chance of sidestepping, or at least minimizing, the urinary symptoms of BPH.
If you are already dealing with BPH, these proven botanicals may help. You do have to be patient, as with prostate supplements—and drugs, for that matter—it may take a few months before your symptoms begin to improve.
Always remember to work closely with your physician to determine what is most appropriate for your specific health needs.