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Men who have prostate problems may be surprised to learn that in some cases, herbs can be more effective for relief of symptoms than commonly prescribed medications.

1. Lycopene, a pigment found in tomatoes, watermelon, and shrimp, is well-researched as a means of stopping the growth of prostate cancer cells. When foods containing lycopene are consumed over a number of years, lycopene accumulates in the nucleus of the cells lining the prostate, and triggers apoptosis, also known as cell suicide, when these cells become cancerous. [1]

2. Phellodendron (Phellodendron amurense) is a Chinese herb that has been used for nearly 2,000 years in the treatment of various urinary conditions. Laboratory studies confirm that it prevents contraction of the prostate gland, which is helpful in keeping an enlarged prostate open for flow of urine. [2]

3. Pygeum (Pygeum africanum) is an African herb used in many European prostate health products. Tested in 18 separate clinical studies involving a total of 1,562 men, this herb is a little less effective than saw palmetto for stopping nighttime urination and increasing the flow of urine during the day, but it is still helpful to a majority of men who take it. [3]

4. Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is the best-known herb for prostate health. This herb contains the amino acid tyramine, which relaxes the tissues surrounding the prostate, permitting greater flow. Since tyramine can trigger migraines, men who are prone to migraines should avoid it. Another, well-researched effect of the herb is to prevent the conversion of testosterone to its active form. This action slows prostate growth, but can also interfere with erections. The best use of the herb is for preventing swelling after prostate surgery. [4]

5. Wild basil (Ocimum gratissimum) is the latest herb in the anti-cancer arsenal for men with prostate cancer. Also known as clove basil or tree basil, this herb grows wild in Hawaii and is traditionally used to treat parasitic infestations with intestinal worms. Research at Jackson State University in Mississippi has found that alcohol extracts of the herb stop proliferation of several different kinds of prostate cancer, but thusfar research has only been conducted in the laboratory. [5]

6. Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus and Vitex negundo) is an herb more often used to treat excessive estrogen production in women. Ordinarily, men should not use vitex at all, since it can interfere with testosterone production. In men with prostate problems of various kinds, however, lowing testosterone production helps shrink the prostate. The key to using vitex successfully is taking only the recommended dose, since overdoses cancel out the anti-testosterone effects of the herb. [6]

7. Xue lian hua (Saussurea involucrata) is a Tibetan plant in the sunflower family that is traditionally used in treating colds. Mildly inflammatory, the plant is also used formulas for treating arthritis pain. Some recent research at China Medical University in Taiwan has found that it interferes with growth factors in hormone-resistant prostate cancer, indicating that traditional Chinese herbal formulas including xue lian hua (the herb is never used by itself in Traditional Chinese Medicine) may be helpful to some men who have hormone-refractory forms of the disease. [7]

8. Ryegrass pollen extract (Cernilton) is made from three different kinds of grass pollen, namely rye, timothy, and corn. Research demonstrates that Cernilton improves the urological symptoms of men suffering from benign prostatic hyperplasia, and nocturnal urination in particular. [8]

9. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) provides an abundance of nutritional benefits, offering iron, magnesium, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, and plenty of dietary fiber. It is used as an alternative remedy for numerous different conditions including arthritis, hay fever, and to induce lactation. Stinging nettle extract is also useful for prostate health, for which it is often recommended in combination with other treatments such as saw palmetto. Research revealed that nettles have the ability to fight prostate cancer cells. [9]

10. Beta-sitosterol, a plant sterol, is commonly found in vegetable oils and nuts as well as avocado. Its anti-cancer potential and the premise that it can hold off the urological symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia makes it a promising choice for any man who wishes to preserve his prostate health. [10]

Herbs are also employed in homeopathic remedies for prostate problems

  • Clematis is included in remedies for slow-flowing or dribbling urine.
  • Lycopodium is used homeopathically when symptoms also include bloating and gas, and when there is pain or pressure around the prostate before or during urination.
  • Pulsatilla is used when there is pain along the shaft of the penis, or when there is a yellow discharge from the penis, as is the case in prostatitis.
  • Saw palmetto is used in homeopathic remedies to treat nighttime urination in older men. Unlike most homeopathic remedies saw palmetto (referred to Sabal Serrulata, rather than Serenoa repens, in homeopathic terminology) is more effective in lower concentrations.
  • Staphysagria treats burning in the urinary tract that continues even after urination.
  • Thuja is used to treat a forked stream of urine, or cutting pain associated with urination.

Diet has a statistically significant effect on the progression of prostate diseases, but the effect is not very large. About 1 in 30 men develop an enlarged prostate, 1 in 40 among men who eat more than 4 servings of vegetables a day. There are similar differences between drinkers and non-drinkers, higher consumption of alcohol associated with higher rates of prostate enlargement and prostate cancer, and between men who ate red meat every day and men who ate red meat less than once a week. Larger reductions in risk, however, are associated with frequent consumption of foods containing lycopene and the appropriate use of herbs.